BAD FOR JAZZ is Good for Seattle
There is an excellent writeup in the current issue of the Capitol Hill Times about Bad For Jazz, the event-curating team comprised of longtime local scenemaker Rachel LeBlanc (of Wehrwolve and WaMü) and semi-recent Indiana transplant Justin Legg. I’ve been meaning to post something about these guys for a while now, and right now I have a great reason to do so: my band Midday Veil is headlining a Bad For Jazz event this Saturday, March 3, at a DIY venue called SPACE in Pioneer Square. This venue also happens to be where I first experienced BFJ, back in July when I was performing as a member of Djin Aquarian’s rotating-cast spontaneous improv project YA HO WHA 33. (Disconnected Bootlegs, aka Hollow Earth Radio’s Christopher Bradbury recorded the show, excerpt embedded below.)
I’ve been to several other BFJ shows since, and each one has been both impeccably curated and appropriately unique. A recent show at Gallery 1412 featured spastic saxophone work from Arrington de Dionyso and cool, Beethoven-infused improv on the grand piano from the classically trained Jonathan James Carr of Brain Fruit. A show at the Josephine last December featured the weird, wizard-themed electro-psych of STENSKOGEN (video here) and the warped turntablism of Sissy Fist did., plus art installations by the ever-rad Adair Tudor and Margot Bird. The shows are very different, but all of the lineups stem from the curators’ belief in the vitality of improvisation as a medium of expression.
The name “Bad For Jazz” is derived from a quote from trumpet-wielding curmudgeon Wynton Marsalis, who has claimed from his institutionally-entrenched vantage point as Artistic Director of Jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center that jazz as a true art form has not existed since 1964. Legg begins every show with a tongue-in-cheek manifesto about Wynton Marsalis’s opinion on the subject being, well, “Bad For Jazz.”
From LeBlanc and Legg’s point of view, jazz is not a discrete folder that exists in an historical timeline, accessible only through the musicological equivalent of period reenactment by which musicians like Marsalis might approach it. Although jazz as a concept has a more-or-less clearly defined beginning within African-American communities of the South during the early 20th century, the implications of the opening up of musical formalism perpetrated by jazz’s early proponents are essentially infinite. According to this view, jazz is not a mere musical style or category that will sit still and allow itself to be enshrined in history. Jazz is an endless, ever-evolving process. It is a portal that, once opened, cannot be closed.
With a manifesto like theirs, I am sure they will encounter naysayers (if they haven’t already) who will issue identity-based challenges to the authority with which they have declared jazz to be alive and kicking. For me, the proof of their claim is in the outstanding performances and sincerely communal vibes provided by the events themselves.
Bad For Jazz is impossibly prolific, with a full calendar of events slated for March. Midday Veil will be playing an improvised set (along the lines of our Subterranean Ritual recordings) this weekend at Space, however I wholeheartedly recommend any one of their future events.