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.


At 11/07/2006 3:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

off topic, but anthony mason!

At 11/07/2006 3:52 AM, Anonymous Evan said...

Jamison's offense is the mirror-reversal of Jarvis Hayes'. Hayes has great form on his jumper, and has (had?) a reputation as a "shooter." During the first two years of the Eddie Jordan era, Wilbon would mention in passing how Hayes could score 20 a night.

Hayes has a reputation because his form mimics that of those who have succeeded. His elbow is where an elbow is meant to be, the ball has arc and spin, etc. Only it doesn't actually go through the hoop most of the time.

What Hayes does can be teached. There's an assumption that what Jamison does can't be, but has anyone tried? Would any coach want to create the drill that would hone off-balance shot-putting over a defender? It wouldn't have any of the dignity of the layup line.

At 11/07/2006 7:34 AM, Blogger Rob I said...

If the Wizards had a Sonny Rollins and a Max Roach, we'd be talking Championship(s).

BTW, every one of Monk's Riverside albums is available at eMusic.

At 11/07/2006 10:35 AM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

Bob James

At 11/07/2006 11:22 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

rob, you can also get overwhelmed by ernie henry's solo work here. though i think the best thing the man ever did is THIS TREMENDOUSLY UNDERRATED LP with kenny dorham.

that was mostly for the recluse.

At 11/07/2006 2:33 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Can we extend the Henry-Jamison metaphor to account for Jamison's matador approach to defense?

At 11/07/2006 2:54 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

he died young.

At 11/07/2006 4:29 PM, Anonymous Witness said...

I remember tuning in to what should have been an unremarkable night in the NBA only to spend three hours glued to the screen as a young Antawn and Kobe traded shot after shot. It seemed they were the only two on the floor. Both ended up with 51. I felt blessed just to have tuned in to what should have been a meaningless midseason game.

At 11/07/2006 5:11 PM, Blogger R.G. said...

I can't help but laugh everytime Jamison makes a layup off the wrong foot. The only thing I can relate this to is putting ham and pineapple on a pizza, looks so wrong, but it gets the job done and is surprisingly tasty.

At 11/08/2006 3:46 PM, Anonymous jerry said...

I've yet to try this (for fear of my girlfriend leaving me), but I'd like to put the Pistons game on the TV and keep the best game on my laptop with NBA Broadband (Clips-Mavs tonight wouldn't be a bad first attempt.)

There's no infrastructure in hip-hop that would allow you to shatter those kinds of templates. You get up by finding a mentor with an industry connection. De La Soul begat Tribe who begat Busta Rhymes. Dr. Dre begat Eminem who begat 50 Cent.

If skills sold, then truth be told, Jay-Z would probably be Talib Kweli. But they don't. That's why the transcedental hip-hop that is being made right now is on the fringes, which is the only place you can survive financially as a niche artist. If Aesop Rock was selling 50 thousand or a hundred thousand records for Columbia, he'd be no longer working for Columbia. But doing that on Def Jux could be profitable.

The golden age of jazz had clubs, tours, radio, ways of nurturing unique talents. Now, you latch onto a movement and try to emerge from it. Hopefully, the internet will eventually break down barriers of access for hip-hop the way it has for indie rock, but it's not happening yet.


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