Sure, you can tell something about a musician by the company they keep. And I am susceptible to the jazz
nerd aficionado’s obsession with who has played with whom. It gets tedious, though. Music, we know, is hard to write about, and a vast amount of jazz writing is taken up with itemising who someone has played with because it’s easier than saying something fresh about the sounds they make. (Simple test: mentally remove all mentions of playing history from the average jazz mag feature, then see what’s left – it’s a good indication whether the piece says anything really interesting.)
More revealing, sometimes, is who someone listens to. Case in point: guitarist Steve Banks at the Fringe last week. I’m not going to review his nice gig, because Tony Benjamin’s taken care of that here. But I was struck afterwards by the resonance of the names Steve mentioned in his thoughtful introductions to each of his new compositions.
A lot of these took the form of “I’d been listening to/thinking about” a favourite musician or composer, and this piece emerged soon after. That’s interesting because it gives a hint of what echoes or overtones you might pick up in what you hear next. And for what it reveals about the sound worlds the person you are hearing new work from likes to dwell in. When the names are familiar, it’s not a matter of feeling one’s own taste has been validated, more of getting a clue how what you are about to enjoy may shed new light on things you’ve appreciated before, and vice versa.
As it happens, that was true more than usual this time. By the end of the evening, we’d had invocations of Fred Hersch, Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schneider, Bill Frisell, and Tom Waits. Good inspirations, and all people I’ve followed keenly for ages*, on record and playing live (OK Tom Waits live has eluded me so far, but never say never). And feeling that the new music aired on Wednesday also informs about how someone else hears them, as it were, helps explain why this was such an enjoyable gig. Not just because we like lots of the same things. Also because it’s always an extra thrill to get a glimpse of how great art inspires others to create anew.
- So I can also revert to type and recall that Hersch and Wheeler have appeared on the same recording sessions a few times (with the wonderful Jane Ira Bloom), Wheeler recorded and toured with Frisell, and Hersch and Frisell have a nice duo recording. Schneider, well, has a favourite trumpet and flugelhorn player who is heavily influenced by Kenny. Which are also good things to know… Jazz is the original circular economy.