So Long Joe
Joe Strummer (1952-2002)
The recent death of Joe Strummer, lead singer of The Clash and most recently The Mescaleros, of an apparent cardiac arrest feels like a personal loss. The Clash was one of my biggest influences musically and politically during my high school years (mid-‘80s). Regardless of whether or not Strummer and Co. could rightly be accused of selling out after the band’s demise, The Clash left an indelible legacy in the annals of youth rebellion, profoundly influencing a subsequent generation of rock musicians and bands.
I regrettably lost touch with my punk influences when I went off to music school and became a jazz snob. Only recently did I realize that not only did the political influence of punk bands like the Clash and Crass still resonate with me (that never went away), but the musical influence kept creeping into my jazz performances. It was dishonest of me to diss music that was an integral part of my youth; which spoke to my own isolation and alienation from the suffocating life of conservative Orange County, California. If it hadn't been for Punk I probably would've killed myself during my teen years.
I suddenly got an itching to hear the tunes off “London Calling” and “Sandinista” albums, which eventually led me with fresh ears on a journey back to the forgotten music of my childhood.
Straight ahead jazz has been done to death. While there is certainly much to gain from shedding down a Charlie Parker or Coltrane solo, I don't simply want to rehash what the earlier jazz masters did right the first time. The music they created was a reflection of their (often difficult) lives and experiences. But their experiences weren't necessarily MY own, and simply laying down the stuff old-school style comes off empty and boring for exactly that reason.
When I play a standard like "Stella by Starlight" or my own compositions, I'm not hearing those old bop melodies in my head, so why go through the motions and play them? Instead I hear an aural collage of elements from the music I grew up with, music that made me look forward to waking up the next day. Many of those elements came from Punk, particularly Joe Strummer and The Clash. That’s what feels right to play, and if the ubiquitous voice of self-anointed keepers of the “tradition” like that revivalist bore Wynton Marsalis says what I play ain’t “jazz” . . . well, FUCK YOU Wynton . . . try playing something original for a change!
Rediscovering groups like the Clash and infusing the punk influence into my jazz work makes me feel like I’m finally beginning to discover my own musical voice, while connecting that world with my political activist world.
So long Joe. Thanks for helping me stay sane as a kid, when the sick unreality of daily life felt like a lynch party banging at my door, and for showing there are productive ways in which to channel all the anger and pain into something life affirming and hopeful.