Chasing the Trane

Last night was almost completely unremarkable in terms of making money. Honestly, it just straight up sucked for a Friday. Thankfully I made Friday money on Thursday night, so it all comes out in the wash.

It's only gotten tangential reference here before, but the radio plays a very large role in my work experience. It's my only steady companion - the cab actually has a customer in it only maybe half of the time, on a good night, and often times they aren't all that talkative. So I love my public and community radio stations, and Portland is blessed with one very good one (KMHD, 89.1 - jazz, and blues on Friday night) and two extraordinary ones (OPB, 91.5 - NPR and local programming, music for a few hours at night & KBOO, 90.7, community radio with music at night). I have all three of their nighttime schedules pretty well memorized at this point. I give pretty generously to OPB & KBOO, as they both make my working life drastically more enjoyable.

KBOO, especially, I love to death. And tonight reminded me why. I started off listening to KMHD's blues programming, which typically carries me through Friday nights given lackluster offerings by KBOO & OPB. Around 11, though, I'd heard just one too many a white woman with an unimaginative back-up band pretending to be Odetta, and thought I'd see what was cracking on KBOO.

What was cracking on KBOO was John Coltrane's 80th birthday party. All Coltrane, all the time, 'til 6 AM - no commercials.

I love Coltrane. Too many jazz fans, in my opinion, intimidate people and scare them off of the music. Their obsessive fetishization has created, in many people's minds, this mystique around the music that really pisses me off. These guys (and they're typically white guys) go on and on with their catalogues of sets and recording sessions and their over-lengthy discussion of composition and improvisation that potential listeners get scared off by this concept of jazz as very important, intellectual music that puny mortals can never hope to grasp. When I'm playing jazz in my car, everyone always tells me how much their father loves it, but that they just don't have the time to get to know it.

Fuck that shit. It's music, and you shouldn't have to study it and obsess over it to listen to and enjoy it.

I'm not trying to make music I love seem trivial, but I do feel like jazz needs to be de-mystified in order for it to remain what it was for most of its existence - a popularly produced and consumed music, not a distraction for intellectuals and elites.
Anyway, the guys at KBOO, god bless them, seem to have pretty much the same attitude (unlike KMHD, which just went ahead with blues). I love Coltrane. "Alabama" is one of the most movingly beautiful songs I've ever heard. "India" is some of the best psychedelic freakout music ever. And he covers the gap in between with amazing dexterity. And his sound - the thing about Coltrane is that when you hear him once, you can always recognize him when you hear him again. Even the drunk-ass punk-rock band I picked up at 4 AM could peg him immediately. There simply never was (or will be) anybody who sounded like him.

I could go on and on about him, but doing so would probably only serve to play into the same mystification process that I decried earlier. I'll close by saying two things: he made what could have been a supremely annoying night delightful, and that he was, for my money, the most divinely inspired musical genius since Bach. Whether one is particularly spiritual or not, it's impossible to listen to Coltrane, or read his liner notes, and not be acutely aware of his sense of an engagement with the divine - of a relationship with a living, breathing, and immensely loving God that dwelled not in the clouds, but in music and people.

I love him for this, just as I absolutely love Mingus for his conjuring of "soul."

Okay, that's enough out of me. The point is that cabbies listen to the radio a lot. Tomorrow or the day after, I'll tell the story of what happened Thursday night. Just so you know that I'm not getting soft or too boring: it involved the police, the switchblade, hip-hop, open containers, and a casino.


Blogger MJ06 said...

All right Thursday sounds good.
I agree with what you were saying about people studying music and trying to get to know it. Your right it's just music listen to it after a while you'll get it and know if you like it or not.

September 24, 2006 4:39 PM  
Anonymous annette said...

i think what intimidates me about jazz is the pure amount of it that is out there. it's daunting to think of wading through all the muck to get to the good stuff. i'm also lazy...all the jazz i have has been given to me by friends.

you've inspired me to check out that radio station however. what fun.

September 25, 2006 5:30 PM  

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