Thursday, March 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt six)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

As a reedman, Bushell observed—almost in passing—one other element that would transform jazz’s second generation: “They had also done more with saxophones in Kansas City.” The primacy of the saxophone, paired with the local players’ feeling for the blues, was central to the sound and character of Kansas City jazz. This penchant for saxophones would not only give rise to powerful reed sections that swung, shouted, and crooned the blues, but would also prepare the way for local giants of the instrument, men destined either to blow themselves into the pantheon or to arrive in Kansas City on the whirlwind of legend. After the trumpet, the trombone, and the clarinet, the saxophone was the next horn to contribute to the aesthetic evolution of Negro feeling on wind instruments.

Invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, the brass and woodwind hybrid that is the saxophone spent its early life holding down plebian roles in parade music. But the instrument made a thrilling run to glory around the time of Charlie Parker’s birth in 1920. Like the other wind instruments of jazz, the saxophone was redefined in these years for virtuoso center stage action. The pioneers who used it to work out new developments in phrasing, timbre, and technique eventually elevated it to the same position in American music that the stringed instrument has in European concert work. It became America’s violin and cello, America’s singer of domestic song, as soon as American horn players learned to moan the blues through their mouthpieces.

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