Where is the blues in jazz when we need it? Throughout most of its history jazz was a blues music, at least until the avant-gardists of the 1960’s tried to burn down the cathedral in their trumped-up revolution against American society, playing music unfocused in concept, unmusical in sound, and unpleasant in performance. They made an outrageous amount of noise that bore little relation to the blues or to jazz, and many sensible black jazzmen—including saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Eddie Chamblee, George Coleman, and Houston Person—have been quick to call this new “music” what it was: a crock. Said Donaldson at the time, “The guys say they’re searching but actually all they need to find is a good saxophone or trumpet teacher and their search would be over because they would teach them how to play it.”
Davis blamed the pundits: “Without the critics’ sanction it never would have gotten off the ground.” More recently Coleman observed that
Coltrane could do it because he could play blues and standards, but Albert Ayler and Frank Wright and those guys could only play noise. No melodies or harmonies, they just didn’t play good.
Noise, but no blues. Yet the blues has always been a vital part of jazz and, in the proper hands, a primal feeling elevating solos on even...