Marmite, you either like it or hate it. Thick, dark, divisive, a salted oil slick of a spread, you can’t sit on the fence about it. I’m not sure if I like it or not, so I guess that makes me an extremist, dogmatic in a paradoxical centre.
At some point you have to get seriously monastic about playing jazz. You have to obsess about it, inhabit it, shut, to some extent, some other stuff out. And then, after some time, 10,000 hours, whatever they recommend these days, you have to rehabilitate yourself in the world of real people, hoping you’ll have time in between for some “maintenance” practice, keeping yourself match fit in between.
If you go to college, you will spend most of the time “under the bonnet”, building and fine tuning the engine, learning the mesh of the mechanics, what goes where, why, and how. Chords and scales in music are like axles and cogs, the basics of what makes the thing go.
But you can’t sell a good car like that. You need someone with good teeth and hair driving it through an empty mountain range, someone beautiful straining at the saxophone with “passion”. You need visuals that sit on top. You need a strong brand.
“Marmite, the growing up spread.” Know what I mean?
Especially now. Because experts are the new enemy of progress. Presumably this trend has “experts” of its own, influencers (influenzas) with their ears to what is left of the ground. Young people with teeth.
So how do we sell this? The new repackaged from the old? New terms like “Spiritual Jazz” are both juvenile and patronising, reducing everything else to the cold and rational. Improvisational forms instead renew themselves through large and small changes in who is using them. On “Ballads” for example, Derek Bailey uses the Tin Pan Alley tradition as a host and then, like a hatching insect, eats his way out of it. This is new. This is old.
Improvisation is an activity like any other. You might as well say eating is old hat, breathing a blatant steal. It is done, and done again, the quality measured in the conviction and not the “never before”-ness of its “content”, the arrogance of its delivery.
Marmite does not, of course, exist in a vacuum. It needs toast. It is, in fact, nothing without toast. Toast and butter. Toast does not, however, need Marmite. It is flexible, it has many companions, Honey. Cheese. Beans. All of these things create magic when toast is introduced. Soup.
Just not Vegemite, which is the sh*t of the devil, please, anything but that.