gateway ROBERT AND MARGRIT MONDAVI CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS UC DAVIS
Inaugural Issue 2018â€“19 $5.00
Reflections on Classical Music 16 Years On p. 12
Callas in Concert The Rewards of Programming Risks p. 20
What is Jazz? Two Perspectives
THE MASK OF SURVIVAL Black Performance in Dance p. 54
What is “
We need to reconsider our preconceptions and toss out a lot of baggage, which might even include the nearly meaningless term. —Marcus Crowder
The new jazz is out there. It’s alive and well and living alongside more traditional forms.
Vijay Iyer performs at the SFJAZZ Center, 2018. Photo Courtesy of Music + Art Management, Inc. Photo by Lena Adasheva.
And why is it important?
In an attempt to answer the seemingly unanswerable question swirling around this still-young and evolving art form, we invite you to take in two perspectives.
BY MARCUS CROWDER
BY JEREMY GANTER
Music for a New World
What We Listen For
usic played often in our house when I was growing up. It was jazz, but I didn’t know that early on. I learned it later. I knew it was black music, though. My mother listened to Ella Fitzgerald, The Cole Porter Songbook, and loved the Ramsey Lewis Trio. She talked about the unique artistry of Billie Holiday. She had seen Billie sing in a nightclub! She had also met Duke Ellington backstage at one of his concerts. He complimented her and her dress (my mom was quite lovely). When she lived in New York, she saw Horace Silver often at a club he played at and occasionally chatted with him at the bar (as I mentioned, she was quite lovely). My mother taught me jazz was part of my heritage. con’t on pg. 42
ands down, the question the Mondavi Center programming team gets asked the most is, “How do you pick the artists you present?” I have a standard if somewhat dryly practical answer. It goes like this: Our ideal season is a mix of artists we know our audience wants to see (e.g. Jazz at Lincoln Center), that we think they should see, whether they know it yet or not (e.g., Vijay Iyer Sextet), and with whom we have special relationships that can yield deeper experiences (e.g., SFJAZZ Collective). It’s amazing, my ability to be boring about such an emotional and passionately expressive subject as the arts, especially given what I do for a living. con’t on pg. 43 2018–19 SEASON / GATEWAY
As a teenager I listened to popular and not-so-popular music of the time: Jimi Hendrix and Laura Nyro, the Rolling Stones and Isaac Hayes. But jazz was always available. I had a nerdy friend whose older brother played trombone and listened to Coleman Hawkins. They called him “The Bean,” and I heard “The Bean” whenever I visited. The Les McCann Swiss Movement album with Eddie Harris became a staple on my bedroom turntable. The undeniable funk of “Compared to What?” backed by the groove of “Cold Duck Time” are still narcotic to me. The first jazz concert I ever attended was McCann and Harris at Freeborn Hall with the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo opening up. My mom drove me to the show, and I caught a ride home with my young, old-school jazz pals.
It’s time to think differently about jazz. Starting with the word itself, we need to reconsider our preconceptions and toss out a lot of baggage, which might even include the nearly meaningless term. There are so many different styles of “jazz” and have been from the beginning of the form because it’s always morphing, adapting here and there, a living art form of musical improvisation. As soon as one says “jazz” comes the question, “What kind of jazz are you talking about?” What “jazz” encompasses is vital and evolving. That may be the most important idea of all: It’s an always changing art form that by its very nature remains not just current but on a progressive edge. Well, some of it does.
There has been a wrong-headed critical discourse around jazz that separates listeners from the experience of simply listening to and feeling the music. The dark mysteries of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew seemed readily available to me after my mother dropped the record off in my room. I felt that music. Ralph J. Gleason’s highly recommended poetic liner notes to the 1970 album contained many truths including this: “So be it with the music we have called jazz and which I never knew what it was because it was so many different things to so many different people each apparently contradicting the other and one day I flashed that it was music.” Gleason’s words still resonate.
Some jazz consciously embraces historical traditions that birthed the music, such as stride piano, or internationalized the music, like gypsy swing, or popularized the music, like big band dance, or contemporized it, like electric fusion, or digitized it, like computer looping. Jazz is many concepts, numerous genres, a variety of ideas. You may be forgiven for not embracing them all. John Coltrane famously made a record with a singer in the midst of his career. The much-loved album was recorded with vocalist
Johnny Hartman in 1963. Though the album may have been the idea of the saxophonist’s producer Bob Thiele, Coltrane did not object. It’s a consistently beautiful record, which one might only complain that it is truncated at only six tunes and 30 minutes of music. Hartman hesitated making the album because he did not consider himself “a jazz singer.” Still there’s no more affecting version of the Billy Strayhorn masterpiece “Lush Life” than here. Is it jazz? Does it matter? Coltrane purists may sniff that the saxophonist was “coasting” or having reed and articulation problems at the time. They can go listen to Africa/Brass, Ascension or A Love Supreme if they want a denser, more exploratory Coltrane experience. One record does not fit all—no matter how great it may be. Jazz is expansive and adaptable. The musicians who play it naturally include their ethnic and cultural frames of reference. A new generation audience is finding the music through the popular forms of hip-hop and neo-soul. But it’s been 25 years since Guru released Jazzmatazz, then called “an experimental fusion of hiphop and jazz” where the legendary MC (co-leader of the progressive hip-hoppers Gang Starr) rapped alongside instrumentalists such as Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Branford Marsalis. The influence is palpable on more recent artists’ work: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, backed by new jazz star Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down crew, are direct descendents of the “experiment.” Washington’s own albums The Epic, The Choice and
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I realize, though, having given this standardized tripartite answer for well over a decade now, that its banality underscores the challenges of being succinct about a subject so incredibly complex. Explaining how we do what we do is further complicated by the reality that the Mondavi Center does not have just one audience. It has many—often several within a single genre—and that means we have to ask and answer a lot of questions as we program each season. How can we be inclusive while engaging multiple audiences with interest and authenticity? How can we be viable in the marketplace without succumbing to “safe” programming? How do we select a mix of artists that reflects the history of an artistic tradition, but also reflects where the tradition is now and where it is going?
to expand what jazz is. This was the whole idea of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and all those people who gave us bebop in the first place. And in some ways, I find that the people who are out there doing jazz now are traitors to that idea.
My reaction to Delaria’s statement was intense, if two-sided: She’s clearly out of touch with what’s happening in jazz performance, but she also has something of a point. (Delaria is, of course, best known as Carrie “Big Boo” Black on the wildly popular Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.) Among her myriad talents, Delaria performs jazz and has family roots in the jazz world. She’s also a keen and calculating provocateur. Her comments got the Mondavi Center staff talking. We discussed who is, in fact, “saving” jazz, who has the right to claim that role, and whether jazz needs saving at all.
“In America, no one goes to jazz.” —Lea Delaria For me, nowhere do these questions play out more intensely than in our jazz programming. A recent San Francisco Classical Voice interview, “Lea Delaria Knows How to Save Jazz,” nicely illustrates my point. Delaria said this:
In America, no one goes to jazz. You look out at your audience, and it’s like Cocoon III. How many times can you hear the same 50 songs played over and over again? We need to get young people involved with jazz, and
(spoiler alert: it doesn’t). Exploring the conversation her interview sparked serves as a handy framework for unpacking the issues we face when we book jazz. Delaria is right about one thing: There is definitively and understandably a cohort within jazz audiences that do want to hear those “same 50 songs.” I know I do. Let’s call those songs the chestnuts at the core of the repertoire. (I assume that’s roughly what Delaria means.) The chestnuts do matter,
and they sustain long-term fame and interest for good reason. This is visceral and historically important music by important people, sought out for many of the same reasons that symphony audiences crave Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Brahms. Indeed, and to Delaria’s point, there are some venues and artists that primarily focus on the chestnuts. They do so in the name of a classic jazz experience. These venues offer, as jazz critic Nate Chinen puts it, “something enshrined in the popular imagination as a historical practice, a set of codes to be reenacted endlessly.” But these classic experiences are the exceptions that prove a rule that good jazz programmers follow: As curators and artists, we have a responsibility to reckon with our history without being problematically retrograde. It’s important, for example, that the Mondavi Center presents the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, not just because they are among the world’s most technically stunning ensembles, but because they situate the Ellington tradition in a contemporary context. It’s equally important that we present the SFJAZZ Collective; also technically stunning, but approaching jazz from a different and far more progressive angle. Together, the two ensembles paint an infinitely deeper picture of the jazz canon than either could alone. If we’re doing our job right, the individual value of seeing one con’t on pg. 45
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Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer finds little to recommend in the word “jazz.” Vijay Iyer. Photo by Jimmy Katz.
Heaven and Earth carry on traditions which include with equal reverence Pharaoh Sanders and Grover Washington Jr.
Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer finds little to recommend in the word “jazz”—and don’t get him started on the hackneyed phrase “all that jazz.” “Like any genre term, it only serves to separate people,” Iyer says. “When we talk about styles of music, we’re actually talking about human beings.” The 46-year-old Iyer can easily be considered a contemporary composer and bandleader of modern, improvised music. Beyond that it’s hard to say, but it is necessarily complicated. He has a number of different projects in continual rotation: a highly regarded, long-standing trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore; a newish sextet (coming to Mondavi on May 7, 2019) that naturally has more heft, with a three-horn front line and more of a groove-based concept.
Iyer has recorded often with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is known for his fusion of Indian and Western music. Iyer works with spoken word artist Mike Ladd but has recorded music that feels more like contemporary classical (the album Mutations). He’ll also appear at Mondavi with virtuoso cellist Matt Haimovitz (March 10, 2019) in a genre-busting performance that will likely include compositions by Bach, Billy Strayhorn, Ravi Shankar and Iyer. It’s not an unlikely pairing for Iyer, who just as easily plays with avant-garde trumpeter Leo Wadada Smith. There’s no name for all this music—either as individual pieces or collectively. Iyer and many others will tell you there doesn’t need to be.
Iyer says. There has been a wrongheaded critical discourse around jazz that separates listeners from the experience of simply listening to and feeling the music.
“There’re a lot of people doing very powerful stuff that has no name— doesn’t need one to communicate,” Iyer says.
“It’s that tag of not understanding, or incomprehensibility, or unintelligibility that’s put on jazz more than anything else,” Iyer says. Iyer works at a very high level, but you might not like everything he does. Yet this is how modern music happens. Artists channel who they are—the influences and interests— into their work. On his Accelerando album, Iyer’s trio recorded a
Iyer thinks trying to “understand” jazz puts an impossible onus on both the music and the listener. “The more you try to understand it, the more it gets away from you— understanding is the wrong word,”
“The music as practiced is very immediate, and it communicates to everybody in the room. It’s something visceral and emotionally intense,” Iyer says. “You don’t come away from something like a Mahler symphony saying ‘I wish I knew where it came from, what the master plan is.’ Or if you do, it’s because you think that’s what you were supposed to do.” It’s not how we generally experience music, whether it’s Beethoven or the Beatles.
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ensemble or the other is somewhat beside the point. It’s the combined effect of both that has a fuller impact. And anyway, as for those “same 50 songs,” look at the average jazz setlist and you’ll find that a love affair with the chestnuts will go largely unrequited. These days, unless a program is explicitly designed to deliver on a theme of famous music, it’s surprisingly rare to encounter even one or two chestnuts in a set by a serious jazz artist. Often, one won’t hear any at all. Jazz musicians tend to be deeply connected to their tradition, but by nature, they also tend to be aggressively forward-looking. Our programming has to reflect this reality. A good, if perhaps extreme, example is Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. Adjuah released a trio of albums in 2017 about which Washington Post music critic Chris Richards said this:
It’s jazz, maybe, but it leans toward trap and techno, starting somewhere between Miles Davis éclat circa 1985 and Jon Hassell atmospherics circa 1986, and landing somewhere else. And sure, Adjuah could be warning us about the shape of jazz to come, but does every great jazz recording have to be a lighthouse? For right now, he’s right here, getting comfortable in a fog that feels gorgeously anti-lawful. .… Along the way, the word “jazz” gained an unwelcome amount of weight, so now Adjuah calls his stuff “stretch music.” He also claims to hate the sound of the trumpet, and refers to his stunningly customized horns as “B-flat instruments.” …It all seems a little pretentious—until you remember that any artist who ever did anything
meaningful was pretentious. (Can we write that in bright lights? Progress requires pretension.)
Adjuah is in the forward guard of young jazz musicians, seemingly unencumbered by musical or definitional boundaries; aware of their tradition but expanding what jazz is. We are trying to keep up. It’s an exciting moment.
more demanding on the player and certainly more demanding for the listener. It countered the prevailing logic of what jazz should be. Adjuah, Hill and their peers are doing the same thing, but with an interesting inversion: They are expanding jazz by engaging and adopting the ethos and instruments of popular music; particularly hiphop, R&B and techno, but through other forms as well. What they’re doing raises definitional questions
Closer to home, Marquis Hill is first up in the Mondavi Center’s 2018–19 The forward guard of young jazz Studio Jazz series. Hill musicians are expanding what is a 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz jazz is. It’s an exciting moment. Competition winner. A Monk competition win about the relationship of confers on Hill an elite status as an the jazz tradition to pop up-and-coming jazz musician. It culture experience. Bebop, also means that he’s recognized as now considered “classic” understanding the tradition while jazz, whatever that term showing huge promise to move means, did the same jazz forward. We booked Hill at the thing. Mondavi Center not just because of his considerable chops, but because of his seamless embrace of hip-hop, Which is to say, despite Delaria’s statements to spoken word and R&B. Classic jazz the contrary, that young purists may struggle with Hill’s people are very involved. music, but given a chance, Hill is a They are having quite glimpse of the future. a moment. Nate Chinen recently published a book When we wrestle with the (Playing Changes: Jazz questions that artists like for the New Century) that Adjuah and Hill ask with their brilliantly unpacks what’s music, there are interesting up with jazz’s rising parallels to the development of generation. In a recent bebop—to the “whole idea of Rolling Stone interview Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie” with Evan Haga, Chinen that Delaria references. The says, “I feel like there are emergence of bebop represented more reasons to be excited an extraordinary and seminal about improvised music expansion of jazz. It was an intentional shift away from popular, today than at any time during my 41 years on the danceable music. Bebop moved jazz toward something more purely planet.” Haga responds: musical, more cerebral, arguably con’t on pg. 47 2018–19 SEASON / GATEWAY
muscular, assertive version of Rod Temperton’s 1977 pop ballad “The Star of the Story” by the pop soul band Heatwave. It’s not a place a mainstream classicist like pianist Bill Charlap would go. A pop ballad for Charlap is the 1955 Landesman/Wolf classic “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” But you could easily put Iyer and Charlap’s trios on a program titled “The State of the Piano Trio,” and while they are very different, they certainly aren’t at extreme edges. Iyer and Charlap can coexist around the compositions of Duke Ellington and, as encyclopedic historians of the music, appreciate the lyricism of Bill Evans along with the sharpness of Andrew Hill. “There is no one jazz audience—there are lots of jazz audiences,” says Randall Kline, executive artistic director of SFJAZZ. Kline co-founded the organization 35 years ago (then called Jazz In the City) and spearheaded construction of its 36,000-square-foot, $64 million SFJAZZ Center, the only building in the country built expressly for jazz presentation. Now in its fifth season, the SFJAZZ Center presents over 400 concerts a year to over 175,000 attendees in the 700-seat Miner Auditorium and 100-seat Joe Henderson Lab. Kline has jazz on his mind a lot, particularly its contemporary viability and vitality. “There’s a huge audience for jazz, especially when you divide it into the hundreds of little niches that are out there,” Kline says. He says it’s hard not to fall into the “what is jazz?” trap, which is essentially an unanswerable question. “It’s an evolutionary art form, and how culture works is also evolutionary, constantly changing, because audiences are constantly changing. The idea is that it’s fluid and that’s the beauty of what this art form’s about,” Kline says. As a presenter, Kline constantly considers how to match music and audience. The idea of “entry points” is key. How do people con’t on pg. 48
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Colt McGraw The Care and Feeding of Artists Colt McGraw was 15 years old when he went to see Wynonna Judd perform at Caesars Tahoe. He snuck into the private sound check, watching the unadorned country music icon whom he deeply admired, rehearse. Then from out of the dark wings, her bodyguard approached him. “What are you doing here?” the bodyguard asked. “I couldn’t imagine not being here,” Colt said. “I don’t feel that I really have a choice.” Now Colt enjoys a career where he works with performers as the artist services coordinator at the Mondavi Center, a position he’s held since September 2017. Colt has always been fascinated with entertainment and the behind-the-scenes mechanics that bring shows to life. Colt takes care of the performers before, during and after the shows. He works along with the programming team and a group of student staff. He is often the first person to welcome the performers to the Mondavi Center. He shows them their dressing rooms, the green room, and directs them to the stage when they arrive. “I think of the Mondavi Center as a home because I am hosting company,” he says. “I want the artists to feel
secure and I want them to be comfortable.” He takes care of the artists’ personal needs, ordering food from Davis’ best restaurants, booking caterers, or driving them to their hotels or the airport if needed. He also supports the artists during meet-and-greet backstage events and in the lobby. Colt says he and his colleagues have immense pride in their jobs, often going beyond what is outlined in the artists’ contracts. He sees his job as building trust with the performers and anticipating their needs. “No matter where the artists have performed in the past, they’re always blown away with our hospitality,” he says. “We have such a passion for what we do and how we do it. The details are always recognized.” Almost every night before leaving, Colt returns to the Jackson Hall stage. It is often around midnight, and the artists and most of the employees have left. He walks onto the softly lit stage and relishes the quiet, surveying the 1,801 empty seats. The ritual “gives me the opportunity to take a moment for myself and remember the excitement that I felt when I first realized that I got to be a part of this,” he says. “I humbly give thanks.” —Joanna Corman
Esperanza Spalding (who performed at the Mondavi Center in 2014.) Photo by Sarah George.
He has a point, and you don’t need to be a diehard fan of the genre to appreciate it. Crossover stars such as Kamasi Washington and Esperanza Spalding are receiving generous mainstream attention. Meanwhile…others are seamlessly fusing hip-hop, R&B and electronica with their jazz mastery, introducing elements of a century-old art form to new audiences. And five nights a week on national television, Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste showcases his ebullient New Orleans spirit alongside Stephen Colbert. In short, the contemporary jazz scene is bursting with promise …
On the audience’s side of the equation, attendance numbers at the Mondavi Center and around the jazz scene reinforce Chinen’s and Haga’s point, refuting the idea
Jackson Hall’s orchestra level. Spalding and Batiste appeared at the Mondavi Center in 2014.] Those attendance numbers are encouragingly healthy, if on an
The cross-pollination of jazz with popular forms is placing jazz performance at the heart of a youthful and vibrant music scene. that “no one goes to jazz.” Pollstar, the gold standard industry source for concert data, reports current attendance averages for Washington, Spalding and Batiste within a range of 700–900 per show. [At the upper end, that’s 80 percent of the capacity of
exponentially smaller scale than pure global pop stars like Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande. What’s more, the cross-pollination of jazz with popular forms is placing jazz performance at the heart of a youthful and vibrant popular music scene. con’t on pg. 49
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initially find their way in? His personal entry point for jazz was the first wave of electric fusion in the late 60s and early 70s. He then followed a trail that led to acoustic mainstream. Kline admires contemporary jazz artists such as Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper, who are developing careers on their own terms, providing audiences with multiple entry points.
contemporary vision with originals and noteworthy covers from Sade, Nirvana and David Bowie, with guest vocalists proliferating. Brad Mehldau has been covering Nirvana and Radiohead for years and the underrated Wee Trio made a brilliant album of Bowie covers, Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Introspective.
the point. Every art has to decide: How much do you want to open the door?” Seiwert says. Her husband, Darren Johnston, is a jazz trumpeter and composer, so she understands the challenges of some jazz to audiences. She’s been to all kinds of jazz shows.
Nobody’s telling Glasper to make these records. This is what he wants to do. He’s found an audience, and even jazz critics have lightened up on ideas of purity when it comes to the music. These collaborations aren’t going away.
In 2015, Washington emerged fully formed with what can only be described as an audacious debut, the three-CD set confidently titled The Epic. Emerged is Sacramento a matter of context Ballet Artistic of course because Director Amy Washington had paid —Randall Kline, executive Seiwert believes his dues (but not in New artistic director of SFJAZZ that doors to York) in pop bands with abstract arts can Chaka Khan, Snoop be opened wider. Dogg and Kendrick She talks about offering audiences Lamar. He’s released records access points by giving them through smart, young independent specific context information. Seiwert hip-hop–associated labels such described seeing a dance company as the Flying Lotus imprint prepare an audience for a production Brainfeeder. He played rock and of Hamlet by having a theater hip-hop venues making connections company come and describe a with audiences previously thought scene from the play. The actors then out of reach to jazz artists. performed the scene. The dancers did the same thing and danced the Pianist Glasper is another scene. musician at the center of the new music. His first record saw him “The dancers came out and showed following a well-worn path of through movement how they were solid mainstream jazz making, conveying those words. That’s a very but on his next, In My Element, specific access point to something,” there were hints of transgression. Seiwert says. She also worked with A medley of Herbie Hancock’s an opera company in San Francisco “Maiden Voyage” segueing into that provided supertitles even though Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right the work was in English. “You were Place,” suggested interests outside never going to feel like you were of the jazz house. Glasper’s next missing the conversation—that was record, Black Radio, furthered this
“There is no one jazz audience— there are lots of jazz audiences.”
“If audiences have an experience that doesn’t fit their aesthetic, they might be turned off by it—that’s a shame because the field is huge,” Seiwert said. She also believes in teaching people that they don’t have to “get it.” “They want to experience the ballet or music or any abstract art form ‘correctly.’ If we could break down that preconception I think people are going to start having a better time.” Kline says jazz will always have a place. “People want to discover meaningful things always. They want to have something that resonates with them. Jazz does that.” Iyer believes it’s time the music and its creation got its due. “This is mastery—human mastery. Music is for everybody and everybody has musicality,” Iyer says. “How can I do something in unison with you? Clap my hands in synch, sing a melody in unison with you. We’re capable of doing something together—so that’s the beginning of community—what we call civilization.” Marcus Crowder is is an arts and culture critic and writer based in Northern California.
LISTEN Gateway: Jazz Classics to Contemporary
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Gene Nelson Fine-Tuning Our Piano Reputation When pianist Stewart Goodyear took to the Jackson Hall stage back in 2013 to play all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a one-day marathon, piano technician Gene Nelson was at the ready. During the 10-hour performance, he patiently stood by in the wings, making multiple touch-ups throughout the day to ensure the tuning didn’t drift, even during the most rigorous playing. “Just the lure of working on really nice pianos and being involved with some of the finest artists on the planet is enough to keep me going,” he says. While Gene has been working with pianos since 1971, when it comes to professional piano maintenance he says there’s nothing that’s predictable or constant. You have to be ready for anything: last-minute scheduling changes, hourslong piano prep, technical tuning. “Some European artists will request a pitch change from A440hz to A442hz,” he says. “That’s a big alteration for a piano and takes extensive tuning to not only reach the pitch but stay in tune throughout the performance.” Then there are artists who only play prepared pianos, which come with all kinds
of devices inside of them to create different sounds and tone characteristics. “This type of maintenance is a fairly extensive process, and some artists are really particular,” he says. “Sometimes I stay through rehearsal, even through intermission, and sound check because artists are a little nervous and want to make sure I’m there to consult with them. My goal is to reduce that anxiety by upholding our reputation as providing world-class instruments.” For Gene, the most enjoyable aspect of working as the Mondavi Center’s professional piano technician is making sure the artists are always playing world-class pianos. Considering that the center has two Steinway concert grand pianos, one classic grand, and one upright, that’s no easy feat—and hasn’t gone unnoticed. “We have gotten lots of compliments from the artists,” he says. “It’s so important to keep a piano in perfect condition, and that takes a lot of work. Maintenance keeps you ahead of the curve— things happen, parts break, strings break, you have to be ready to make quick repairs. But that’s what makes all the difference.” —Alicia K. Gonzales
Consider further the example of Kamasi Washington, equally famous in jazz circles as for his collaborations with hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. As of this writing, Washington’s late summer and fall 2018 touring included 30-plus concert dates. Some at traditional jazz venues, but among his more mainstream appearances are five dates as an opener on the Florence + The Machine Tour [Florence appeared at the Mondavi Center in April 2012, and draws audiences of more than 10,000 attendees regularly]. Here we have one of most iconic pop artists of the millennial generation, selecting as an opener an icon of the millennial jazz generation. Check out the lineup for any major jazz festival, and you will find a similar integration of jazz and popular music. If you attend, you’ll also find an audience that is as young as it is old. Let’s not kid ourselves, some of this programmatic cross-pollination is meant to drive ticket sales, but it also reflects, exactly, the artistic climate in which jazz artists increasingly operate.
In America, a lot of people do go to jazz, but to understand the jazz scene one has to be open to the idea that definitions are always changing. As Rolling Stone’s Haga says, artists like Washington, Adjuah and Hill are, “with their jazz mastery, introducing elements of a century-old art form to new audiences.” The new jazz is out there. It’s alive and well and living alongside more traditional forms. It benefits from the immediacy of discourse in the digital age. It circles the globe via streaming services like Spotify, where, it seems, almost everything musical is at hand and up for grabs. As ever, it speaks loudest through live performance. Jeremy Ganter is director of programming at the Mondavi Center.
LISTEN Gateway: Jazz Into the Future https://spoti.fi/2CB886C 2018–19 SEASON / GATEWAY
Gateway 18-19 articles by Marcus Crowder and Jeremy Ganter