Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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

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

Bolden became a professional in an era when there was a great deal of tension between the light-skinned Negro Creoles of New Orleans, who were trained in European music, and the city’s intuitive, self-taught “ear” musicians, who made up the core of the early jazz innovators. Bolden himself was one of the so-called “fakers,” who would sometimes substitute imagination for memory and who developed a reputation for playing embellishments that struck his audiences as exciting, surprising, and sometimes even superior to the original compositions.

Bolden did more than challenge the primacy of written music. He also pioneered an equally profound revolution by changing the instrumentation of conventional groups, combining elements of brass bands and string ensembles, and reversing orthodoxy by giving the wind-blown instruments the leads and the strings the supporting roles. In Bolden’s day, the brass bands performed marches and some rags, while the string ensembles played dances and parties. Bolden did them all, but he was primarily a leader of a dance band—smaller than the norm but, by all accounts, possessed of tremendous power. He himself was capable of playing with a volume that not only expressed his passion but also advertised his presence, often “calling the children home” from outdoor concerts where other bands were performing. The strings couldn’t project with the power of the brass in those preamplified days, nor had Negro musicians begun to approach their instruments the way Bolden did his cornet, incorporating the vocal intonations of black speech and song, and bringing a moan to his sound on the blues that touched listeners with a power akin to that of church music.

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