After another lengthy period of not blogging and the onset of a new academic term, I thought I would take the time to engage in a little bit of self-reflection and offer an update as to my ever-changing status as an aspiring jazz musician, writer and scholar. Forgive me this navel-gazing post, as it also serves to help me think through how this blog and the rest of my online identity develops over time.
This September marks what should be (assuming that I can finish my thesis on time) the last term of my two-year M.A. program in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers University. I’m taking one final class, “Jazz and Race,” with Dr. Lewis Porter, founder of the program and the guy who got me into this mess in the first place. So far (just two classes,) he has dealt very honestly and carefully with our society’s complex racial history; soon, we’ll be delving into the various ways that has played itself out in jazz history. I’ve been reading a lot for the course, including the entirety of Barack Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” which brimmed with insight but could have probably been 50 pages shorter (for my sake, at least — that wasn’t all of this week’s reading!)
As I begin to wrap up the process of thesis-writing, I am coming to understand how the racial lens is an inescapably important tool for talking about jazz in our society. Of course, this is not a new observation: jazz writers have been aware of this fact since pen was first put to paper. As I tweeted the other day about Ingrid Monson‘s Freedom Sounds, though, it seems to me that “a fuller account of whiteness needs to be addressed in her attempts to understand the hybridity of jazz (and African American) experience.” It remains to be seen whether I can effectively navigate that challenge as I write about Jack Teagarden, one of the first transcendent white jazz artists.
However, it seems that the more staunchly I commit myself to academic work, the more opportunities crop up “on the ground” in the jazz world to keep me focused on what’s happening in today’s jazz world. Since June, I have been working on a programming project for WBGO (more details to come soon, I hope) that has had me listening to copious amounts of new jazz releases. I wish that I had more time to delve into the excellent music that I’ve been hearing at the blog, but that just hasn’t been practical. I am open to ideas as to how I might use this opportunity to share my listening experience with more people — please chime in with comments if you can.
And to top it off, my life as a professional jazz journalist has officially begun: my occasional work for The Star-Ledger will be a part of this blog from now on, so watch this space for previews of the Pat Metheny Orchestrion Tour, Danilo Perez and Poncho Sanchez at NJPAC, and more. For you PR and publicist-types who’d like to hip me to more great music, the best way to get things to me is via my mailbox at WBGO:
Alex W. Rodriguez
54 Park Pl.
Newark, NJ 07102
Thanks to everyone who continues to read my blog, comment, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and all the rest. I feel so blessed to have found a virtual home in the online jazz community, and hope to see, hear and participate in its continued growth. I’ll probably be somewhat limited in my posting for the next couple of months, but am usually pretty up on my e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, always welcoming of anyone who’d like to reach out.
Speaking of reaching out, I’ll close with two links. First, the latest addition to the blogroll, an excellent jazz blog maintained by Montreal-based drummer and writer Matt Kassel: Cold Jazz. His latest post on jazz discovery is among the many thoughtful and searching essays that are featured there.
The other is this post at New Music Box by Ian David Moss, entitled “Composing a Life, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Dollar.” I know you’ve just waded through 700 of my hastily-strewn words, but trust me, this is worth your time. The last paragraph of Ian’s introduction serves as a fitting conclusion to this post, as I share Ian’s aspiration of “connecting my experiences (and perhaps some of yours) to the bigger picture:”
In the course of this sudden immersion into what the rest of the world thinks about and does on a daily basis, I came to realize that my former existence had been focused like a laser on about 0.00001% of everything that matters. It was like the veil had been lifted on my life: the choices I faced when I voted in an election or needed to buy produce or searched for an apartment to rent or, yes, chose a graduate school had all been determined by somebody, or more often a collection of somebodies acting in somewhat predictable ways. It became clear to me that I was never going to have control over my own destiny unless I had the capacity to see and understand the external forces that were influencing my circumstances. And if that’s true for me, it’s true for you, too. So here are a couple of vignettes from my own journey into the belly of the capitalist beast, which I offer in the hopes of connecting my experiences (and perhaps some of yours) to the bigger picture. After all, we are just variations on a theme.