You know I had to comment on Jonah Lehrer’s “basketball is brain jazz” piece, which I had to try and comment on at some point. The comparison (meme, even?) is close to my heart, and not something I only think about in terms of lazy analogies.
My main question concerns the, ahem, metaphysical differences between basketball play and jazz improvisation. While if both do involve lightning-quick decisions based on assimilated/practice material, in basketball, there’s clear goal in mind. The rebounder is trying to come down with the ball; the point guard, set up a scoring possession. Even the most baroque one-on-one players are trying to find a path to the basket for the best look—or the one that looks the best, maybe.
In jazz, there simply isn’t that same clear-cut point to it all. One can be trying to stay within the changes, or interact with bandmates. But neither of these present anything like an overall goal of the improvisation. I guess there are approaches to a solo that make a point of developing, and dissecting, thematic material—Sonny Rollins’s “Blue Seven” is the most famous example—and yet by definition, an improvisation involves not knowing where it will end up.
Why do soloists solo? It’s as banal as “to express themselves”, or the even more vague “to say something”. Jazz is discourse, with its own internal logic and emotional narrative. There’s no clear argument; “good” and “bad” solos are largely the result of critical, or peer, consensus. But that only underscores how basketball, where everything is a means to an end, differs from improvisation, an end in itself even as the brain is engaged in similar activity. Sadly, I lack the training necessary to know whether this difference is substantive, or just a matter of semantics.
Prodigy’s gramps in action, 1979.
Shred. Sonny Sharrock + Melvin Gibbs at the original Knitting Factory.
Nothing quite starts a day like Leitch RT’ing Hollinger talking about how the Flaming Lips are for real part of the New OKC’s identity. It’s true—when I lunched with Mayor Mick, he talked a lot about how important that was to the kind of city they wanted to be, and also how tight him and Wayne Coyne are.
If you really want a music war to pop off between Memphis and Oklahoma City, there’s going to be hell to pay. Memphis, in case you didn’t know, is arguably the most musically important city this side of New York. You know about Sun Records and B.B. King’s Beale Street, Stax, and Hi (Al Green and beyond), all of which are civic institutions there—albeit some in sarcophagal form. Anyone reading this is likely also up on 8Ball and MJG and the entire Hypnotize Minds camp (I always forget that Frayser Boy has an Oscar). But scratch the surface just barely, and you get Sleepy John Estes, Big Star, the Replacements at Ardent, and nearby soul outposts Fame and Muscle Shoals. Jay Reatard (RIP), River City Tanlines, I posted a Scruffs song because, well, they’re from Memphis and can go toe-to-toe with any more famous act. Dan Penn’s “Raining in Memphis” guts “Walkin’ in Memphis” any day of the week.
But let’s not totally sell OKC short. It’s long been a place that people were from, not one people stayed at. Still, giants like Charlie Christian and Don Cherry, were the jazz-saturated Deep Deuce neighborhood, once the regional hub for black culture in the Southwest. Ralph Ellison wrote about those formative experiences. There’s a street named after Wanda Jackson, a lifelong native. COLOR ME BADD IS FROM OKLAHOMA CITY. Toby Keith has a restaurant there. Sam Rivers is from El Reno, which falls within the metropolitan area for census purposes. Also, the Dust Bowl did kind of trigger a huge migration to California, which is why Merle Haggard’s birth certificate says nothing about the state forever associated with him. Who knows how this match-up might go, if history had not been so cruel?
Regardless, I have to give this to Memphis in a landslide. And, out of personal bias, OKC produced no James Carr or O.V. Wright. That right there decides it for me. Please offer your input and corrections however this medium encourages such activity. And no, the Thunder cannot claim all of Seattle’s past musical achievement. I would say the same thing about the Grizz and Vancouver, but I think they’re just fine without Destroyer.
Take some quiet time.