Jazz of the Past and The Art of Time Traveling


So, I got some cds in the mail today.  Three, to be exact.  Before I had finished staring at the cover of the second to flip to the third, I was already traveling back in time to the day and place of the recording session.

The thing of it is, I was never there to begin with.  Hell, the recording dates on two of the albums occurred not long after I had gotten sufficiently adept at walking on two feet.  The third cd was recorded before I was born.  But still, just the sight of those album covers took me back.

And that’s one aspect of the power that Music Of The Past has on me.  Staring at album covers and liner note photos of jazz albums recorded back in the fifties and sixties, especially some of those classic Blue Note and Prestige and ESP album covers or the great liner note photos of the Impulse albums, the sense of history is so palpable that I can feel it pulling me back in time, as if I had been there to witness the recording session personally.

The ability to conjure memories and nostalgia for times and places that I never actually experienced… that’s power.

And I have to admit, as focused as I am on the jazz of the present day, it’s an aspect of older jazz albums that I had forgotten about.

We create because we are compelled to.  Creativity is a truly awesome human trait, and the act of expressing all the imagination and unspeakable thoughts and emotions bouncing around inside our heads and hearts and souls through an expression of art, it’s just about the purest acts of humanity we can give substance to.

What is important in creativity is the artistic expression in the present moment, where it’s just the artist(s) and their art… the rest of the universe doesn’t exist.  This act, a distillation of imagination and creativity while existing only in that moment, it makes an imprint in Time.  That imprint is represented by an album or a book or a painting, etc, but there is an emotional and psychological presence to it that is so much more than just the physical product one can hold in their hands.  And it’s so damn palpable.  It’s why I can open the mail, look down at a cd cover from a recording session that occurred forty years ago, and feel myself traveling back to a time and place I’d never been, and feel the itch of memories for events that never happened to me personally.

Now, that is why art is important.  We create these things that are expressions of ourselves which affect others in a variety of profound ways, and which will continue to do so even as they outlive the artists who created them.

And the artists of today?  The jazz artists recording right now as I write this?  If you put your heart into your music, in forty years, in four hundred years, people will still hear the beat of your heart as clearly as they hear the notes from your instrument.  And they just might travel back in time to see it in person.

Anyways, that’s what I felt as I flipped through the above albums.  Just felt like putting it down in type.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had a discussion (or discussions) over on the AllAboutJazz forum with others on this same subject.  It’s not a new experience, this sense of time travel, but its recurrence never lessens its potency.


3 Responses to Jazz of the Past and The Art of Time Traveling

  1. Chris Ammann says:

    It’s a powerful phenomenon. I could scarcely believe it when the 50th anniversary of A Kind of Blue came round. The music still feels as vital, relevant and immediate as it ever did. And when the recording quality is as good as it was for AKOB, one does not have to make excuses for the audio standard. I’m afraid I do struggle with ‘classic’ recordings that are fidelity-challenged, like some Robert Johnson recordings. It’s then that I start to feel guilty and shallow! However, some breakthrough albums that were innovative in the day don’t always date well and have often been bettered. The challenge is distinguishing between the timeless classics and those albums that are of more historic interest,

    It would be fascinating to know which albums of today will be the classics of tomorrow. Will melodically and harmonically ‘difficult’ music of today be the way forward or will most of us still put on Miles while wishing we liked Ornette more?

    But your blog entry also highlights the problem/opportunity we have today faced with so much new music. It’s all too easy to neglect the many gems in the back catalog.

  2. davesumner says:

    Hey, Chris.

    I’m glad to see you add the word “opportunity” as an addendum to the “problem” of having too much music. Because you’re right. It is an opportunity.

    Yes, there will be music that gets lost in the crowd. And some of it may be pretty spectacular music, groundbreaking even. The thing of it is, it’s never truly lost once it’s out there, and whether the music is discovered today or in a hundred years, it’ll still be there to have an impact on the listeners.

    Having more music than one can ever listen to is a good thing. It’s the best kind of wealthy to be presented with more art and creativity than one could possibly engage in a lifetime.

    As far as the challenges presented by the sound quality of some older recordings… I hear what you’re saying. I struggled with it for a time, too. But I began hearing those older recordings differently once I started appreciating the “flaws” on those recordings as one might look upon the deep wrinkles of a wise man, as being symbolic of history and experience, but also as evidence of genuineness.

    Thanks for stopping by the site.



  3. Chris Ammann says:

    Dave, I love your concept of old recordings being weather-beaten but wise. In our youth-obsessed culture we often overlook what the elderly have to offer. Chris.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *