Conversion's Sour Accidents
Together, we can get through this. I hope that some of you have found great joy in my past attacks on "The NBA is jazz!!!!!" Tonight, though, I beheld a truth that's forced me to soften my thinking. I know not exactly where I stand, only that dogma will serve me little purpose at this juncture. Allow me to let truth sprawl out before you, and then maybe compromise will follow.
One major liability of Shoals + League Pass is that I'm likely to just watch the Wizards every night. Given the fact that many superior FD operatives are streaky, fragile, or not even that notable an on-court presence, picking games out is tough for me. As someone who has generally had to make due with network coverage, you forget how many unremarkable nights there are in the NBA, how often two moderately competitive, marignally interesting teams threaten to swallow three hours of your life. It's also made the NBA a given, something I can take for granted; on Saturday, I drifted in and out of Bobcats/Cavs, whereas on any other day it would've been a Shoalsian holiday.
Deep within the heart of tonight's Wiz/Magic endeavor, I stumbled onto something eternal. Something that utterly defies all that I clutched sharply. No matter how much it pains me to admit it, Antawn Jamison is Ernie Henry. Henry was an alto saxophonist who played with a bunch of names in the late forties and early fifties, did a couple of sessions as a leader, and then died in 1957. I think it was some kind of leukemia, though it's entirely possible it was dope. None of this has much to do with Jamison; what matters is that, like Jamison, he used bizarre means to arrive at an ultra-ordinary end. Henry had one of the strangest tones and most off-kilter senses of beat this side of Ornette and Dolphy, but almost exclusively played obvious, predictable bop licks. It's like he was born with a fantastic deformity and then strained with all his might to fit into pleated trousers.
Here, courtesy of the Recluse, is Monk's "Brilliant Corners" with Henry. He's the one who sounds like he's made of wet electricity, solo starts about four minutes in.
I'm assuming most FD readers know about Jamison's style, and unfortunately YouTube has no Jamison mixes I could provide for the cave dwellers. I thus heartily invite you to make your own, and even go ahead and combine it with the Henry, as Jamison might be one of the few players in the league whose actions actually have a remotely "jazzy" contour to them. The point, though, is that Jamison's kind of idiosyncracy is rarely considered to be fucked-up or broken. It's the same logic that allows Kelly Dwyer to put Kevin Martin on his list of Ten Best Shooters in spite of his "unorthodox wind-up." Shawn Marion's jumper makes little or no sense aerodynamically, but has proven effective and thus must be accepted. In fact, with results come legitimacy, and with legitimacy authority. There's no need to seem convincing when there are measures of accomplishment; Jamison makes shots, Henry could interact musically with artists responsible for making modern jazz what it was. In that sense, he forced his way into the conversation, just as Jamison makes us accept his awkward pauses and unlikely releases.
I've never been convinced that hip-hop works like this. If someone wants to pay lip service to moving the crowd or battling in the park, that's fine; I'd also send you a very elaborate invitation to go back to when that shit mattered. The hip-hop that emboldens today's Association is pop music, pop in the sense of populism, popularity, and pop market. Artists ally themselves with hegemony, be it regional, local, aesthetic, or clique-based, and go as far as these templates can take them. That's not knocking them; just saying that rappers get noticed by giving the impression of fitting in, not making people fit them in. I'd say this was also true historically of most soul, blues, and funk, with innovation reserved for the truly great ones. Jamison and Ernie Henry are most definitely minor characters, but they contribute to the great reservoir of tradition in the same way as LeBrons and Coltranes do.