It's that big.
A while ago, at least for those who grew up when Coleman Hawkins was alive, The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz surveyed the circumference of jazz. I can remember sitting in my room nexta the rekkid playa trynta to put every note of songs like "Harlem Air Shaft" to memory in case I wore the groove flat and I could not find another copy. The collection's purpose was simple: You went in looking for giants and you found 'em.
And yet, you'd listen and no matter where you listened there was no room for Maceo Parker next to John Coltrane, or even Skip James next to Billie Holiday. For every "Lonely Woman," there were 100s of other ones not on the tracklist.
Here is where the Art Ensemble of Chicago comes in. The professors offered a course of "great black music, ancient to future." Although many saw the reference looking backward as a creator of a tradition, in my blindness, I always saw it as forward looking. I could see all around, from vaudeville and ragtime and field songs to Bootsy Collins and Malachi Thompson and Kool Herc.
In this time after, chaboy Allen Lowe*has taken 36 discs to fall short in 1950, proving that circumference a.) is too big to measure and therefore, b.) is a dangerous science. He's composed a quirky box that only sends the listener back to gaze in the fire looking for more because so much is missing, even before 1950. It's no longer about the giants; it's about all them devils living in the details.
The work of making history is really the work of making a beautiful story. Every attempt to tell the story from the beginning is never more than a story where you start out from the end. With this understanding, I take my own devilin' view of things as if there is a panhiphop tradition. That's cause there's angels in the details, angels.
So one place to begin might be at the end of 2008, where chaboy Trav @ radio WYDU has left a cookie jar of 200 tracks from the last year. There's more going on here than in any top 10. I'm'a listen for some mo angelin' tunes.
In the mean time, why'on't you stare into this fire:
- Art Ensemble of Chicago, "Nice Guys"
- Bert Williams & George Walker, "My Little Zulu Babe"
- Elzhi, "Motown 25 (feat. Royce da 5'9")"
* I am amused by, but not convinced by, much of what Allen Lowe has to offer as jazz history. He is correct to check Marsalis and Burns for their errors, but he does not always correct them from any vantage point.