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Something special for my 500th post

July 20, 2013

By Andrew J. Sammut (aka M. Figg)
From Aesthetic, not Anesthetic

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I’ve been drawn to early music since I was a teenager. I’ve had something to say about it since I mentioned “the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Don Redman” and other prewar jazz musicians to my high school band director: a lifelong jazz musician as well as a regularly gigging professional at venues throughout New York City, he replied with a blank stare and a shrug.

Even the most open-minded and experienced listeners remain cut off from the earliest chapters of the music they love. The fact that the “Historical” section in the CD reviews section of Downbeat rarely reaches further back than the sixties (most recently covering Tony Williams’ work from the eighties) tells me I’m not exaggerating.

The classical world is no different: if you play music of the Baroque or before, critics relegate you to the island of “period instrument players.” I suspect that most rock musicians are more interested in Mick Jagger than Bill Haley, and that many pop stars have a “no influences more than five years-old” clause built into their contracts. Part of the reason for starting a blog about twenties jazz and eighteenth century music was to say something about music that I’ve always enjoyed naturally, but which may sound arcane or just odd to others.

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Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic wasn’t supposed to be an electronic notebook of my thoughts (though based on the first few posts it certainly felt that way). It wasn’t just a means to share the music, since Amazon, YouTube, Facebook and a several other websites have that angle covered. This blog was meant to advocate for lesser-known music while challenging the assumptions and double standards applied to it. For example, why are John McLaughlin and Robert Glasper praised for their incorporation of musical elements from outside of mainstream jazz, while early jazz musicians’ references to vaudeville and European concert music are deemed “hokey” and “not jazz”? Why are eighteenth century operas criticized according to musical and dramatic values that arose centuries after they premiered? How can any music be called “early” or “modern,” “dated” or “cutting edge,” when in the end all music was once “new,” and eventually it will all be classified as “old”?

ANA always tried to stick with concrete examples of the music instead of abstractions and generalizations. People kept telling me that this music is quite old, but that never mattered to me. Buster Bailey’s clarinet and Cimarosa’s arias resound with the same energy and interest as anything uploaded straight from the studio last night. So my only qualifications for blogging were the ability to type and a mild disconnect from temporal reality.

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Sticking to the music was not only a more enjoyable way of doing things, since viewers could skip my verbiage and go straight to the music, it was the most realistic approach. No one enjoys being lectured at, and I’m not the one to do it. I am not a professional musician or a trained music historian. I don’t assimilate music with the same diligence or encyclopedic knowledge of fulltime record collectors (and trust me, there are such things). I don’t have many session dates memorized. I don’t even know any matrix numbers off the top of my head. I thought that while I might not be an academic, I could be a tour guide. I could direct listeners through places they might not usually visit, but which gleam with the same shine as when they were built. My blog would be inspired more by Rick Steves than Howard Carter.

However ANA doesn’t seem to be doing anything that would convince my old band teacher to join the tour, or for that matter his sidemen, his students, or the critics and historians that serve as his tour guides. I am fortunate and extremely grateful to have built up a smart, devoted core of readers. Yet lately this blog has seemed more like preaching to the choir than attracting converts. It was meant to get the music into new ears and change people’s minds. That may have been an unrealistic goal, but either way it now seems like a goal in need of a better advocate.

No matter who is or isn’t reading, I’m just not satisfied, so I’ve decided to suspend Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic indefinitely. This decision isn’t quite a matter of, “if you love something then set it free.” It’s more an acknowledgment that if you respect something, allow it the time, resources and above all the knowledge it deserves. I’m ready to let those who know (more), teach. I’m also ready to go back to being a student. The dry reed on my clarinet is even more encouragement.

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There are plenty of other bloggers as well as journalists, websites and further resources to share and educate about this music. Ricky Riccardi is a graduate of Rutgers’ Jazz History program and Archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, who shares his passion and knowledge for all to read and absorb. Marc Myers writes about jazz from all periods, every day, with the accuracy and insight that only a professional, passionate journalist can summon. “Atticus” posts beautifully engineered recordings of early jazz, while “Thrax1982” handles all the operas that don’t make it into the conservatory. Ted Gioia is Ted Gioia. Fellow blogger (and good friend) Michael Steinman features live video and earnest yet penetrating commentary about the modern practitioners of this music as well as their original inspiration. Michael’s bona fides in traditional jazz (which I’ve always insisted is a style rather than an era) come from a lifelong love affair with the music, balanced by a sensitive ear and sharp mind. I can only hope to offer something remotely similar some day. The list just goes on from there.

To the people who have read and supported ANA, I’ll end by saying “thank you” for encouraging me, and advise that “you should all be blogging.” I’ve learned more through your comments than any search engine. The pop of yestercentury makes a mighty sound, but it invites (and deserves) discussion. Classical music especially needs people who demonstrate love and humor as well as training in the subject. Don’t let “new” music get all the attention. Sound is always in the present.

Thanks to everyone for sticking around, forgetting about the dates and scratches, and simply enjoying the music.

All the Best,
AJS

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About Andrew J. Sammut

A lover of twenties jazz, eighteenth century hits and more of the pop of yestercentury, who has written for All About Jazz, The Boston Musical Intelligencer and Early Music America as well as his own blog, Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic.

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