Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jazz Is the River: Last Notes from 2011

© Reza Hakimi | Sep 2011
This is my last post from the nearly finished year of 2011; a year that was marked by unrest in Middle East, continuance of a crippling recession, and the beginning of a global awakening against the cruelty and injustice of the capitalist system. Jazz had a small role in these affairs. Jazz "occupy", too, since it was and it is the music of social consciousness.

In the second half of the year I started my radio programme for Iran. It is obviously a jazz show, broadcasting weekly from an internet-based radio in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea is to bring jazz to a wider audience in Iran, mostly the younger generation who are evidently open to new things. I'm trying to provide an easy to access space that gives them the chance to hear this music, to learn about its history and the people who created it. Some of the shows are my selections of the tunes from different periods and different musicians, and some of them are focused on the lives and career of a particular artist (Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, etc.). In between, certain themes and concepts in history of this music is explored and explained, among them the theme of "father", or "vibrato in jazz" or as my last programme for the year 2011, "female vocalists of the 1950s." 

Responses, especially from Iran, is heartwarming and despite all the difficulties folks have in Iran to access to the internet, listening to it, or downloading the podcasts, the number of downloads and clicks show it has good number of listeners. I'm really proud of this, and feel that my heavy dues to this music is partially paid by spreading the sound of truth. This activities even were reflected in Canadian CBC radio and they interviewed me about jazz in Iran and my concept of jazz as democracy.

Also in the year 2010 some great messengers of jazz left us, among them the departure of George Shearing, Snooky Young, Frank Foster, Ray Bryant and Bob Brookmeyer really broke my heart. The generation of the giants is vanishing and there is nothing we can do about it, except regenerating this music with new talents and new ideas. But even in the second decade of 21th century some of those giants still had extraordinary things to offer. It worth mentioning, among the gigs that attended (mostly at London Jazz Festival) how some of these past masters were as powerful as their 20s and 30s.  I will never forget Cedar Walton Quartet's magical performance at Ronnie Scott's, and Roy Haynes's magnificent combination of jazz and pure theater in Queen Elizabeth Hall, almost a month ago. As Philip Larkin, British poet and jazz critic says "one of the oddest features of the American jazz scene is the way the past refuses to be over." So I would argue there ain't no "past" in jazz. It's all about "now". That aspect of jazz reminds me of great Persian poet Khayyam. Charlie Parker is Khayyam of 20th century. But that's another story!

From this so called past, many great recordings shape my thoughts and feelings during the year that witnessed my move from north-eastern Iran, or city of Mashhad to London. Pepper Adams, like any other year, was a major figure, this year with Ephemera. A seminal statement on alto from Mr Phil Woods on Alive And Well in Paris. Thelonious Monk and his London Collection set. Rediscovering John Lewis. Digging Stan Tracey and seeing him in person in Kingstone. Exploring the hard-to-define musical territory of Tony Scott. A moving return to Ted Dunbar. Discovering forgotten masterpieces such as Paul Gonsalves's Humming bird (1970) and Jimmy Hamilton's Can't Help Swingin' (1961). Feeling like going out and shouting the names of Georges Arvanitas or Joe Albany in the open spaces. Getting acquainted to the velvety voice of Kenny Dorham who sings too. Deeply appreciating Charlie Barnet and his 1940s big bands. And finally, thanks to Mosaic and their new Ellington box set spending a golden month just playing those tunes over and over again.

By the way, in my humblest opinion, Teddy Wilson's piano is the best soundtrack for London town. That's enough for now!

Many European TVs and news agencies have their own treasure of jazz footage, whether a simple reportage, a proper TV appearance, or recording of a jazz event. Some of these treasures have leaked in the internet and one can find them on Youtube or other assorted websites. Some of them rarely been seen outside their native countries. Jazz archive of French TV,, belongs to the latter group. They have many great archival materials that can be accessed on their website.

Unfortunately one have to pay to watch the whole show (and sometimes it's as long as a complete gig), otherwise it suddenly interrupts and leaves you with some regrets of not being able to watch it to the end. A little bit of generosity was needed to at least include one complete tune for free. Anyway, that's French style and segments are still too great to not be missed, including these favorites of mine:

Slide Hampton 1972 Complete 1 2 3 4
Johnny Griffin Trio (Klook & Arvanitas) 1973
Duke Ellington solo from 1965. Take the "A" Train is here.

Art Blakey in his's interview points out "jazz is like a river, it has to flow." Indeed, it is like a river, and from my point of view, broad enough and deep enough to swim in it, float on it, and occasionally get drowned in it.

Some friends and colleagues believe that my appraisal of Nat Hentoff is overstated. This year, reviewing, re-reading and first-reading of his oeuvre showed that it could be anything but overstatement. Still, in my view, he is the best jazz writer we ever had. You can argue that we have better writers in terms of historical accuracy or academic substance, but as a whole, as a Writer, I'll go for Nat. He wrote about me on Wall Street Journal. So maybe 2011 was the most important year of my life, jazzwise!

Allow me to bid you a 2011 farewell with Strut that Thing by Clarence Lofton. "Pre-electric recording and dated instrumental technique make the historical sense necessary to enjoy some tracks," says Mr Larkin, "and the gaiety and colour is sometimes tiny and distant, like a miniature." But in this case is as vivid as someone who's playing it "now" and for you. See you next year and don't forget to STRUT THAT THING!

P.S. [28 December]

Duke at the airport, Switzerland, 8/2/1965


  1. Thanks for all and good luck .
    We are waiting for new programme in next year .

  2. Blakey was right, jazz indeed is like a river. when you listen you don't hear perceive movement, you perceive one pastiche of colours, only through deeep introspection do you come to realise the movements of the music. thanks for posting!

  3. Yeah, Ehsan, jazz *is* like an eternal river, and one of those mighty rivers left us some days ago:

    The freely flowing human spirit Sam Rivers. (You will find an obituary at my humble blog).

    As long as we play their records, those great folks will live forever. And we musicians have to go on, stay creative as long as possible, and try to find new audiences for sharing our love to music.

    This year's Christmas gift to each of my students was Kenny Dorham's "Quiet Kenny" from 1959. Kenny had it all: A butter sound, swing, and he could play inspired lines in every tempo.

    I wish you and yours a Happily Swinging New Year!

    Keep up the good work, and stay healthy.

    Yours truly,