Are you listening?

The biggest problem with American music right now, is that kids don’t listen. They come by it honestly, Americans don’t listen anyway. When people go to concerts, they say I’m going to see… not, I’m going to hear.”
— Branford Marsalis

IMG_2076OVER THE last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking and writing about listening. I just finished a reported essay about radio and connections over the airwaves. Just as I was putting the last touches on it, I saw another related tangent crawling through in my social media queues: Lots of discussions about listening — primarily the very quality of listening. Much of it circles around what has changed in this transmedia-age where information pelts us from all directions but so often without context and background.

The piece that seemed to kick it off was a repost of a spirited conversation with musician Branford Marsalis from a Jazz Times interview last October with Bill Milkowski. It wanders all over the place in the very best way, but at the core it was about communication — playing and listening and audience.

How do we convince people to listen to this? I never really bought into the whole idea of education as an answer. First of all, this music is not easy to listen to. Most of my regular friends, when they would talk about music, they would recite the lyrics. So they’re not even listening to the music. So how are you going to get a person like that to make a leap from that into pure instrumental music? How are you going to get people to make a leap from pop [music], which is an interactive music, to what jazz has become, which is kind of a passive listening experience? That’s too much of a leap for these people.

The other post that was simultaneously making the rounds — which connects to the thread expressed in Marsalis’ quote above — was a blogpost ostensibly about the shifts in our music listening habits. I posted the link on my Facebook wall and tagged a few friends with whom I either talk about music extensively with or have in the past gone to hear shows or we have formed a habit/pattern of listening.

I was really interested in the range of passionate responses. Even surprised about how emotional many of the comments were. The idea of listening “cut-to-cut” to hear an “album” unfold was something that still held a great sense of import but wasn’t a routine many could create time for anylonger. There was a real sense of longing expressed about losing space in their lives for that sort of surrendered listening. I still do it because I can’t quite focus on very much else when I’m listening to music I have to just let it take over, but I realize I listen less and less like that — also due to time, but format changes have played into that as well. I suppose connected to all of this is a sense of longing — that has to do with the time to take such a journey. That leap that Marsalis speaks of above is crucial in both inhabiting the music and letting the music inhabit you.

Are you listening?

How have your habits changed?

(image: my grandmother’s radio)


Ventriloquism: The Highest Form of Compliment?

LAST WEEK, I happened to catch an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, one of chef Gordon Ramsay’s many TV franchises. I hadn’t really been watching it too much this season figuring that one season, and that the very limit, two, was probably enough. You get the arc of this narrative pretty quickly.

It’s not a show where one thinks consciously about race — it’s simply its own little survival-of-the-fittest island — but last week more than a couple of the wanna-be exec. chef’s were liberally peppering their patter with their read on hip hop (read: black) argot.

The most uncomfortable voicing throughout has been Sabrina, a trash-talking, 20-something blond who frequently boasts about her “ghetto” this or that , or is wondering if “Diddy” is going to step out of the limo arriving for early seating at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.

It’s simply painful to both listen to and watch her. Horror show.

Check her out right about 2:25ish in this clip (and make sure to make it to 2:47):

Later, she sends out this riposte to Vinny, the last chef eliminated: “I took your black jacket, bee-yatch”


Then there’s Russell, who addresses everyone as “bro,” and recently referred to himself as a “grown-ass man” then turned and did a gangsta limp out of the room. Last week, he turned it up mid-episode to challenge the kitchen’s most nebbishy cook, Trev, to “come correct.”
Well, all right.
I began to fantasize that Jason Ellis or Nilka or better, Tennille (who had the temerity to get in Chef’s face — more than once and without hesitation) — were there to put her in her place. I wonder if she would have felt as free to speak this way if she had someone around to check her.

This all hit home yesterday as I was flipping through a couple of books that I’m putting together a preview piece for the paper. Obstensibly, they are about black oral tradition — the rhythms of passed on wisdom-culture. One of the books, The Anthology of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois (with forward and afterward written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Common, respectively) speaks to this. Writes Gates in his intro: “Rap’s influence on the English language is palpable in the currents of contemporary, everyday speech. It’s a vivid vocabulary and often explicit.”
We’ve grown so used to it, I seldom blink.
I don’t think I would have reacted as much if Sabrina’s voicings hadn’t been so, well, cartoonish. She looks and sounds ridiculous. It’s barely ventriloquism — it’s a sideshow. If it had just been Russell, I wouldn’t have blinked. He seems like a tough-guy who grew up as a kitchen urchin — and Trev better indeed “come correct.” No doubt.

I’ve  known enough full-time cooks and stressed-out executive chefs and all about their all-hours, back-breaking work that stretches from dawn to dawn. I’ve come to know precisely how much a proving ground  kitchens can be and who they attract and why. You’ve got to be tough. There is a commraderie and a system of proving yourselves — a brotherhood if you will. But there was something so off and discordant about her posturing — the eye and neck-rolling — and all else that goes with it.

Come on Sabrina, come correct.