A Fickle Sonance, Part 1

Greetings. As a means of introducing this blog and myself, I’ve elected to detail some of the inspiration and ideas behind the name. Historically, “A Fickle Sonance” is the title of a Blue Note hard bop session led by the inimitable alto saxophonist Jackie McLean in the late autumn of 1961.

Born in New York City in 1932, Jackie McLean, or Jackie Mac as he was known in the jazz community, thrived in one of the most vital eras of jazz. Though at the time of his first recordings in 1951, the glamor of the swing era had faded, the 50’s and 60’s were flush with the collective genius of the bebop revolution: Bud, Monk, Dizzy, Parker, Miles, Roach, Mingus, Blakey, Morgan and a host more. It was one hell of an time to be a jazz musician or an enthusiast, and unlikely to be surpassed in its depth.

Though heavily influenced by the great Charlie Parker, whose centrality to bebops nascent forms is indisputable, Jackie Mac is easily identified within a couple of notes. While Bird’s tone has a cleanliness and a lightness that ease across the ear even has he whirls across registers, Jackie’s is taut and angular, driving home a sense of searching and striving. And like his unsettled sound, Jackie Mac did not rest artistically. Noted jazz critic Gary Giddins described a 1997 peformance of Jackie’s thusly:

Some of the very moments that kept you leaning ever closer to the bandstand were those that would sound faltering or clumsy on record: the hesitation before choosing an entrance point, the suspense as the rhythm turned this way and that, the breath-catching moments of rumination—the exhilarating, rumpled cool of making it up on the spot

Much like jazz, existence is a struggle of persistent improvisation. To varying degrees at varying times, comes the opportunity to improvise, to try to embody the “rumpled cool of making it up on the spot.” But like the musician who at times struggles to engage the muse, the exultation and joy of teetering on the edge of the present can fade. Always lurking is the possibility that acts of becoming grow staid, losing their potency, their fervor. Improvising is often a fickle game; messy, steeped in uncertainty, and lacking any inherent teleology. But it can be, and is often surprisingly beautiful. That life is a fickle sonance is a guiding ethos for this blog (and blogger).

So what exactly is this blog about? Many things, potentially. A little bit about myself will help clarify. I’m a twenty something that will soon be a medical student who studied biology, philosophy, and neuroscience in college, is a hopeless audiophile, and a bit of a jazz snob. Those interests will certainly manifest here. That said, I’ve refrained thus far from becoming too definite. I look forward to improvising as I go…

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For more on Jackie McLean: New York Times, NPR

Jackie Mac and Quintet playing “Quadrangle.”

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2 Responses to “A Fickle Sonance, Part 1”


  1. 1 TroyK October 17, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    I commend you on a great choice for a blog name. I will enjoy spending a little time on it to see what else you have to say.

    Let me share, a fact that you, as a jazz snob may or may not know about this record (which is why a friend found and pointed me to your blog). This excellent session contains of one, I believe only 3 compositions that ever made it to wax by the incomparable Butch Warren, who appears on bass with his then inseparable sidekicks, Sonny Clark and Billy Higgins on this session and several others from the 1st 1/2 of the 60’s. One of the great rhythm sections of all times. I love them all, but am becoming a bit of a BW historian, so this record and the two others with his compositions are of special interest to me. Great cover art too.

    I hope you don’t mind the intrusion.

    -tk

  2. 2 curly November 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Troy, the intrusion is most certainly welcome. I appreciate the information on Butch Warren. I first heard the grouping of BW, Mr. Billy Higgins, and Sonny Clark on Dexter Gordon’s “A Swingin’ Affair,” and indeed they are great (Soy Califa!).


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