I'm currently stuck in a "less is more" aesthetic and feel unwilling to actually elaborate on what I'm thinking. But suffice it to say, I've spent the last several months listening to, among others, the music of Duke Ellington and I'm struck by two things:
- Choo Choo specifically and Ellington's music in the 1920s generally, are more interesting than I ever imagined. Choo Choo could be a novelty song but instead may be artistic genius. I used to want to time travel to New York circa 1964 to witness the bubbling up of minimalism (or alternatively and slightly earlier, to visit UC Berkeley, pre-Amoeba, when Riley and Young were students). But now I wish I were alive in NYC/Harlem in the twenties. Mark Tucker's Ellington: The Early Years (e.g. Chapter 9) captures the now stunning musical effect of Choo Choo in detail. Here's an introductory quote:
In the early 1920s jazz was supposed to be entertaining...Yet Ellington and his band avoid the temptation to play "Choo Choo" for laughs.
- Ellington's Money Jungle album from 1962, with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, may be the penultimate expression of improvised music, ahead of the more renowned Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. I'm still working on this theory (and god forbid I trash Miles, Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley) but the strength of the "backing" musicians is superb as they somehow push the sometimes overly suave, if not "twee," Duke into the best piano playing of his career.
This all leads me to suggest John Adams is our era's Duke Ellington.
Here's the argument: they both understood and expressed their cultural zeitgeist, they both achieved an unexpected level of musical popularity, they both had innovative things to say individually and collectively, and both their musics transcended origins and presumably will endure...