Saturday, August 29, 2020

One Hundred Years of Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker, who was born 100 years ago today, was a gift to humanity. Like jazz itself, he was a gift to the world from America, in spite of America.

The most celebrated expressions of American culture, what’s recognized worldwide as enduring and unique and profound, came from Black Americans asserting their humanity, creativity, spirit, and intellectual rigor in a society that denied the existence of those qualities in its Black citizens.

Because we know his name, because he MADE us hear him and remember him, Charlie Parker was triumphant over adversity. But his triumph is weighted with sadness: his life was too hard and he died too young. 

Although on the bandstand he might have seemed otherwise, he was no superhuman: he was of course merely human, the same as the rest of us. 

Indeed, every person who has ever made a mark on this world, every individual revered and destined to be remembered for making a difference, was also “merely” human. 

Us “Mere Humans” need to be reminded from time to time of the astonishing amount of beauty we’re capable of, of how amazing we might be, of how much joy we could perhaps bring to the world.

To this day Charlie Parker inspires countless people, in many creative disciplines, to work harder, to spend more time in the shed, to hone their skills, to push against adversity, to be more than they currently are.

Right now, at the moment you’re reading this, someone in some corner of the world, looking to him as a role model, is cloistered alone in a room, working something out, trying to be better at expressing themselves today than they were yesterday.

In that work, in that struggle, without a doubt: Bird Lives.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A throwback…

I developed my first notions of a graphic design aesthetic more or less by osmosis, snuck into my brain by record covers: once I realized I could identify the distinct design languages of a Blue Note record vs. a Prestige record vs. an Impulse record, I started to take note of the very non-arbitrary decisions that gave these tangible objects their specific and powerful vibe.

The iconic jazz labels (for the most part…) understood that the first encounter a person had with their music was the record jacket itself: the first “artistic statement” made by a record wasn’t actually the music!

Right in the store bin a Blue Note record “felt” different from an Impulse record, and some of that feeling colored the actual listening experience. Graphic design is powerful!

And, in terms of today’s music, it’s more or less defunct. That’s a big loss.

To get to today’s delivery model for music, all we’ve given up is 

• great graphic design, 
• authoritative liner notes (which were HUGE in my development), and 
• sound quality! 

Other than that, you know, yay, I guess.

Anyways, Maria Schneider’s latest record, which you won’t find in any of the streaming services, is gorgeous visually and sonically: it’s a throwback to when the music you’d buy had a compelling *tangible* component, a physical presence that was a big part of the experience. I’m grateful!