At some point, mysterious forces convinced you these two genres were hopelessly lame. Let us de-program you.
Somewhere along the road of our musical acculturation, we were set upon by various forces, both sinister and benign.
They told us what to like and what to shun, lest we lose standing in whatever playground social circle we occupied. Various sub-genres of hip-hop, r&b, and rock were cool, while country music meant permanent exile.
But jazz and classical were so far down the musical food chain that there wasn't even a need to be warned away from them by your supposed betters: there was an unspoken understanding that these genres were simply not up for consideration.
But it didn't use to be this way: swing jazz was the EDM of its day, and on the cobblestones of 19th Century London and Paris, wigged, saber-carrying fops could often be seen listening through their carved ivory headphones to Chopin, Schumann, Bach. But somewhere along our collective cultural evolution, a shift took place.
Perhaps, as you grew older, you even recognized the importance jazz and classical music once had and saw that it influenced modern music in inextricable ways, but having shunned it your whole life, simply didn't know where to begin listening. To help you finally access these two woefully neglected genres, we've created an introduction guide to classical and jazz music for the modern music lover.
It's best to approach jazz and classical music like a novice outdoorsman: eager, but wary in the face of the unknown. So, let's start with a metaphorical stroll across a sunlit field before we try to scale any musical mountains.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may seem like an obvious suggestion, being one of a small handful of classical composers almost everybody can name, but the genius from Salzburg can't be matched for immediate accessibility and fun — especially his 27 piano concertos, the musical equivalent of quiet meadow strolls. Among his best are the 9th, 20th-24th and 27th. Runners-up: Ludwig Van Beethoven (symphonies 3, 7, 9), Frederic Chopin (piano works, especially the Ballades).
Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271, 'Jeunehomme' (Murray Perahia) www.youtube.com
Likewise, the music of New York saxophone legend Sonny Rollins is the perfect jazz counterpart to Mozart: ebullient, personable, and a seemingly endless fount of melodic invention. Career highlights include Newk's Time, A Night at the Village Vanguard, The Bridge and Saxophone Colossus. Runners-up: Charlie Parker (assorted recordings for the Verve label), Clifford Brown (recordings co-led with drummer Max Roach), Bill Evans (Live at the Village Vanguard, Waltz For Debby).
Tune Up - Sonny Rollins www.youtube.com
Discarding the hiking analogy, let's pretend you're a tattoo artist who has just graduated from inking pig hides and moved on to his foolhardy friends eager to score a free tattoo, no matter how bad the result.
In jazz terms, this step could reasonably be embodied by several artists, but the one that springs most readily to mind is Charles Mingus. The composer/bass player's music, influenced by the giants of both swing and bebop, is wooly, unpredictable, and irascible - but with feet planted firmly in tradition. Essential Mingus includes Mingus Ah Um, Pithecanthropus Erectus and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Runners-up: Eric Dolphy (Iron Man, Out To Lunch), mid-60s Miles Davis (E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Miles in the Sky), Roland Kirk (Rip, Rig, and Panic, The Inflated Tear).
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Full Album) www.youtube.com
We're dealing here with rough equivalencies, and candidates for Mingus' classical counterpart for the novice listener are legion, but you'll struggle to find better than Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Putting aside his most famous work, a mega-hit (by classical standards) called Peter and the Wolf, Prokofiev updates the emotionally turbulent Romantic-era (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, etc.) classical model, adding to it dissonance, extreme dynamic shifts, and almost jazzy rhythmic complexity. Major works include his five piano concertos, a violin concerto, symphonies 1 and 3 and Romeo & Juliet. Runners-up: Claude Debussy (piano works, La Mer, Maurice Ravel (Bolero, piano concertos, his string quartet in F major), Gustav Mahler (symphonies 5 and 9), Benjamin Britten (piano concerto), Samuel Barber (Adagio For Strings).
Prokofiev-Romeo and Juliet www.youtube.com
Shifting analogies yet again, now imagine that you've spent a few years cage-diving with enormous, blood-thirsty great white sharks and you're getting bored. You ask yourself, "Why not venture outside the cage?"
The classical music equivalent of swimming with sharks is Hungarian Bela Bartok, a bona fide modern genius. His output was scary and disquieting - and highly original. As points of entry into his extraordinary, but difficult, body of work, look no further than Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. Runners-up: Igor Stravinsky (Rite of Spring, Firebird Suite), Dmitri Shostakovich (piano concerto no. 2, symphonies 5, 10). Alberto Ginastera (piano concertos).
Béla Bartók - Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta www.youtube.com
The late 1950s and 1960s were, to put it lightly, a turbulent time for America. That instability was reflected in the music of the day, particularly jazz. Several figures emerged as leaders of the music's new wave, but Ornette Coleman is probably the best example. The Texas-born alto saxophonist shares at least one trait with Bartok: both mined and mutated traditional folk idioms from their respective countries. Coleman leaped right out of the gate: his first handful of recordings were like clarion calls, announcing the coming of a new order to a world thoroughly taken by surprise. These include The Shape Of Jazz To Come, Free Jazz, The Art Of The Improvisers, Ornette! and Ornette On Tenor, all recorded between 1959 and 1961. Runners-up: John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Sun Ship, Transitions), Cecil Taylor (Unit Structures). Circle (Paris Concert). Dave Holland (Conference of the Birds).
The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet - Free Jazz www.youtube.com
And with Coleman and Bartok ends this brief detour off the crowded highway of popular music and down the winding side road of jazz-and-classical. If you found it instructive, consider sharing your new wisdom with others, or simply be content to luxuriate in your newly expanded musical universe.
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to organgrind.com for more of his work.
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With fans of multiple franchises calling for various alternate cuts to be released, a simple solution remains on the table.
Update 5/22/2020: It's been announced that the Snyder Cut of Justice League will be released on HBO Max sometime next year, prompting star Jason Momoa to post a promotional image to Instagram with the accompanying text "finally it's happening" and "justice served." While this is the outcome fans were hoping for, a long term solution to alternate cut controversies is still called for.
There's a proud and storied tradition of studio interference in Hollywood.
Studio money pays for every aspect of a movie's production, and sometimes the directors those studios hire can't be trusted to cater their films directly to the lowest common denominator. After all, how can their investment be guaranteed to net a big return if there are members of the audience who will be confused or disturbed by challenging elements of the movie? The best solution is obviously not to come to a clear understanding of what the project will achieve in advance. No, the best solution is to wait until the director has finished pursuing their vision, then to chop that vision to bits and stitch it back together into something more marketable.
Since at least 1942, when RKO recut and destroyed Orson Welles' original version of The Magnificent Ambersons—which Welles blamed for the decline of his career in Hollywood—there have been legends of lost directors' cuts that could restore the glory of what might have been. The latest entrants into that category are the so-called Snyder Cut of 2017's Justice League and the JJ Cut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Though without his decline, we might have missed out on drunk, surly Orson Welles
Of course Zach Snyder and J.J. Abrams—both known for delivering fast-paced action movies—are not the kind of directors traditionally thought of in these scenarios. Legends of studio interference always involve directors sacrificing broad entertainment value for some more lofty artistry, but Abrams and Snyder are both such blockbuster workhorses that this devoted passion to restoring their work might seem surprising at first. Are people truly so invested in movies that were only ever trying to be adrenaline-pumping, flashy fun? Obviously yes, that's the dumbest question you've ever asked.
The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement is now more than two years old, but it has only picked up steam since the original petition kicked things off. Advocates have even channeled some of their energy into charitable efforts supporting the Association for Suicide Prevention, as the tragic death of Zach Snyder's daughter led to Warner Bros. bringing in Joss Whedon to complete (and supposedly ruin) the film. According to the movement's official website, it has taken on such a life of its own that many of its proponents have taken to using the term Snyder Cut "as short-hand for a superior version of anything they find disappointing." Clearly the recent emergence of #ReleaseTheJJCut has picked up that spirit and run with it.
Is this the new norm for major film franchises? Any time fan expectations are set higher than what the studio delivers, fans will channel their angst into an imagined perfect version—and a corresponding movement? And if so, is that better or worse than the Game of Thrones fans petitioning to get the entire eighth season remade?
The more you dig into the details of fans' wild speculation, the more apparent it becomes that people have invested their entire identities into these franchises. No amount of arguing that these alternate cuts may not exist or will never be released is enough to dissuade them. It's a level of emotional attachment that leads them to mistake the studios' transparent profit seeking—tinkering with their products to broaden their appeal—for some sort of malicious betrayal of the fans, the creators, and the franchises. Disney, in particular, has taken on a villainous aura in recent days among proponents of the J.J. Cut. Spurred on by the anonymous Reddit post that claims to be drawing from inside info, fans have dug into every detail that surrounds the movie that disappointed them on such a deep, personal level, and have uncovered a conspiracy that is unbelievable in the truest sense of that word.
The same kind of Reddit detectives that previously brought us gems such as blaming an innocent, dead Indian man for the Boston Bombing, have now convinced themselves of the existence of a plethora of competing edits—a George Lucas cut?—that Disney has suppressed in a deliberate effort to undermine the integrity of the film they spent hundreds of millions of dollars producing and promoting.
The crux of the argument points to the exclusive deal that J.J. Abrams production studio, Bad Robot, recently signed with WarnerMedia—the studio responsible for the DC Extended Universe movies that have failed to compete with Disney/Marvel's domination of the superhero genre. According to this anonymous friend of an anonymous insider close to J.J. Abrams (these degrees of removal and layers of secrecy are necessary when leaking state secrets), Disney was so threatened by the idea that Abrams would be brought on board the DC movies in an attempt to revitalize that franchise that they immediately set out to sabotage his career and their own multi-billion-dollar franchise in the process.
"They want to keep DC in the limbo that they're in right now. Abrams jumpstarting that franchise with something like a successful, audience-pleasing Superman movie makes them nervous. Their goal is to make JJ look bad to potential investors/shareholders."
Apparently Abram's pristine, three hour version of The Rise of Skywalker would have included a mind-blowing ending full of familiar force ghosts, more scenes of Rose Tico, more development for the same-sex couple who kiss at the end, and some supposedly amazing scenes of Adam Driver's Kylo Ren that would have "provided much more context and added deeper meaning to both his battle with Rey and the final redemption arc." The anonymous source remains unclear on the question of whether this lost version would also have freed Tibet and ended global warming, but it certainly sounds likely.
If the source is telling the truth (and that is a bellowed, deafening if, echoing into eternity) then Disney chopped and screwed J.J. Abrams' vision for The Rise of Skywalker with the express intent of undermining the general impression of his competence as a filmmaker, so that Warner—the villains who suppressed the Snyder Cut—would not trust him with their Marvel competitor, and thus lose out on a franchise-saving work of genius. Honestly, as crazy and convoluted as it sounds, it does present a compelling narrative. And, however unlikely it seems that Disney would do anything to intentionally damage the Star Wars Franchise that they have just spent billions turning into a permanent fixture in their theme parks, massive corporations have done much worse and crazier things in the past.
Regardless of the truth behind these theories—whether Finn was meant to be a force-user who is also in a romantic relationship with Poe Dameron, or the Green Lantern was truly cut from Justice League—there is a solution to the tension between studios, directors, and fans when it comes to these mythical lost cuts. As with so many of the problems that arise from the blind pursuit of profit, the solution lies with collective action. Namely, action on the part of the Directors Guild of America.
If the guild put its heft behind a new contractual requirement—giving directors the option to preserve and release their own edit of their films—all this speculation could be erased. Executed properly, the studios would have nothing to lose, and directors would receive an added insurance against studio meddling—protecting their creative work. Simply put, if the studios wanted to retain the right to make final edits for the theatrical release of blockbusters, they would have to allow the directors to preserve and control their own cut—if only for digital release at a later date.
The guild already has Director's Cut protections—ensuring that directors are able to prepare their versions in the first place—as part of their "Creative Bill of Rights," and it would only require a slight expansion of those rights to create an option for separate release. While neither party would be likely to find this entirely satisfying—which is to say that it's a true compromise—creators, actors, and Jason Momoa would no longer be forced to fight for their preferred version. Formalizing a standard agreement for a director's cut release would quell unrest among ravenous fans, and give them an outlet to spend even more of their money and resolve the rampant speculation.
If the current passion for alternate cuts could be captured and channeled into a more general #DirectorsCut movement, the Directors Guild could get it done. The controversy could then shift to its natural home—disputes among fans about which version is best. The old Star Wars model of re-re-re-releases of various iterations could spread like a virus through the rest of the film industry and swallow up the entire scope of fandom, while studios and directors got rich together off the whole mess. So… make it happen. #DirectorsCut
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It was always her dance floor.
Few artists have given as much of themselves to their fans as Lady Gaga.
Since being ordained queen of the nightclub (not to mention the pregame, the getting-ready-bedroom-dance, the drag show, and the summer night drive) in 2008 with "Just Dance," the hit single from her hit debut album The Fame, Gaga has continued to surprise fans with constant reinvention. She cemented her place as the pop-artist of a generation with Born This Way and even (as over-produced as it was) Art Pop, and then, shockingly, went on to release a jazz standard's album with Tony Bennett (Cheek to Cheek), a country album (Joanne), and finally become an Oscar-nominated actress for A Star Is Born. Somehow, she pulled off every iteration of herself with charisma and grace.
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