Sunday, October 12, 2008

In praise of fun

In the beginning, jazz was fun.

Check it out. Go back. Go way back.

Louis Armstrong was fun. Duke Ellington was fun. Fats Waller was fun.

I feel silly pointing this out, but I think some jazz artists forgot about this fun thing. They’re so caught up in being wonderful and precise and – God help us – fast. Nothing wrong with fast. Fast can be fun. But it isn’t always.

Wynton Marsalis is fast. He’s very fast. He’s a wonderful musician. He’s a great proselytizer for jazz. He is the face of jazz at a time when it desperately needs a face. But he ain’t fun. He’s so damn serious, and all the time!

Miles Davis was like that, too. He was moody and his music sounds moody. In a good way. Art doesn’t always have to be fun, but it’s nice when it is.

Now, Dizzy Gillespie was fun. He could throw a party just standing in a room alone with a trumpet, and that would be fun. You sensed it on all his records, and it was truer than ever in concert.

Fats Waller was maybe the funnest jazz musician of all. If anyone had more fun on the 88s, I haven’t heard it. And I don’t care if his records are older than Fred Flintstone. He was part-clown, yes, because he was having fun. He had fun without singing a word. Solo Fats is maybe the most fun you can have on a piano.

Suggested CD: “If You Got To Ask, You Ain’t Got It!” by Fats Waller

Tracks: “African Ripples” and “Viper’s Drag”

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