Writings about Music
And Watch What Happens
Michael Robinson (Los Angeles)
Look, I know what is generally referred to as avant-garde jazz as well as anyone. I understand Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and others spawned by them. I even named an early composition after Ornette because I'm one of the artists he helped spawn! And I know they would all approve of the way I went in another direction rather than attempting to copy them, the point being to be yourself rather than emulating whatever is fashionable for whatever crowd. My personal favorite avant-garde jazz is the Interstellar Space album by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, a format and form influenced by Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha. (Coleman and John Cage are key catalytic figures in jazz and Western compositon history, respectively.)
That said, I believe the most actual avant-garde jazz artist remains Lee Konitz because qualities defining being avant-garde, namely abstraction, unconventionality, and unpredictability, are foremost, above and beneath the surface, in his improvisations. Lee was my primary jazz teacher, of course, and his profound imprint on my musical personality is evident.
The direction I went in was, I later learned, the direction John Coltrane was wishing for at the time of his passing, namely the Ravi Shankar gharana which I was very luckily ushered into.
Now I understand what attracted John, what appealed to his intellect, emotions and spirit. This only makes me feel closer to him and his music, something I didn't think was even possible.
Watch what happens when you combine jazz and raga orientations spawned by Lee Konitz, Red Garland, Shivkumar Sharma and Pandit Jasraj. Lee would be proud of the way I'm truly improvising in the moment, what he said was the essence of jazz. I guess you might call what I do post-jazz, but I personally prefer simply, jazz.
This is my American heritage personally passed to me by Lee Konitz, who personally inherited from Lennie Tristano. And we all - from Benny Goodman to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis and everyone else - inherited from the composers and lyricists who created the ragas of jazz - the standards. These are music compositions second to known in the history of recorded and unrecorded music in any genre. Their songs are like the finest scotch just waiting to be sipped so that they may live alive one more time possessing secret maps to the inner content essence of jazz to be like that forever.
Remember, one defining aspect of avant-garde is taking something familiar and then shaping and reinventing it in new ways. The Cubists, including Pablo Picasso emboded this preference, of course, to give one of myriad possible examples.
Contradicting the stereotypical and superficial, qualities of being avant-garde are oftentimes found in unexpected places, such as the extreme manifestation of You Must Believe In Spring by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, content being key towards defining as such.
And I'm sure Lee and Ravi are playing ping-pong together somewhere sweet.
I won't mention how I could beat Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy using my left hand.
- Michael Robinson, December 2022, Los Angeles
© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Please note that new essay are often edited and added to for up to 72 hours after publication, so you are invited to revisit.
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 198 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.