Jewish World ReviewAugust 28, 2003 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5763
out pop chaos
It is inevitable that we lose more and more people who represent for
our culture higher versions of ourselves. It is not always inevitable,
especially in a time as decadent as our moment, that people from the
best elements of show business will be recognized as supreme human
alternatives to the ongoing garbage, chaos and greed of our species.
But this month, at the Blue Note, jazz musicians and
listeners came together to celebrate the 85th birthday of Hank Jones.
Jones is not only one of the greatest piano players to have arrived from
the world of jazz, he is a symbol of something we sometimes seem to
have forgotten in our time. In his taste, his manners, his wit, his
professionalism and his belief in the weapon against ignorance that we
know as refinement, Jones stands in for all the best that our nation has
produced in any era.
Hank Jones shares those standards that underlie our country's finest
victories - gleaming workmanship and empathy. As a jazz musician, he
is an artist who achieves individuality in a way that does not express
the grand sorrow of alienation, but the grand collectivity of working to
make everyone else sound good at the same time.
As a professional for more than 60 years, Jones is not so much a
member of a dying breed as he is proof that such qualities of finesse and
style can maintain themselves under even the most trying
circumstances. He came through racist periods with the best answer to
stereotypes, which was consistently high quality. If one wanted it more
than well done, Jones could do it, which is why he helped break the
color barriers in the recording studios and in television orchestras.
Along the way, he performed with almost every one of the most
supremely talented jazz artists and popular music entertainers of our
time. Under his own name, Jones recorded some of the best music his
idiom has produced.
So all that jazz and the color-blind utopia that it represents was in
attendance at the Blue Note to celebrate this great man and the
tradition out of which he arrived. On that same bandstand where the
kings and queens of jazz have been presented for the last couple of
decades were musicians young and old, black, brown and white.
In the audience were people from all over the world who possessed
that special recognition of human value and community that is central
to jazz and to New York and to the most uplifting and humbling human
occasions anywhere on Earth.
A signal moment came when Roy Haynes, a genius of jazz percussion,
spoke of having first worked with Jones in 1952, when they
accompanied Ella Fitzgerald. The warmth and the undaunted elegance
of the world these artists made and the inspiring sense of community
that their art offered all who would listen became palpable. Even those
who didn't know suddenly came to know.
As we would hope, the love came from within the music itself. Pianist
James Williams organized the whole affair, and the musicians came
forward, and the audience, so symbolic of New York, came to the Blue
Note, where the meanings of elegance and craftsmanship were made
evident once more.
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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy
of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American
Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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