The Beast extends our apologies for being so delinquent in our posts as of late. For the last 10 years of so, we have been gathering research material for a sort of vague, hazy endgame: basically a book about the history of underground music in Los Angeles from the 1950s til, well, NOW. We've traced it all back to the development of free jazz during the Ike Years and we've seen a collectivist, D.I.Y. ethos that's been passed down over the last five decades to the city's improvised music, punk rock, hip hop, electronica and experimental indie rock scenes.
It's a bit of an epic chunk to chew, which is why it has taken us so long to finally get down to it. But last week we were at DIESEL in Brentwood for the launch of the new online publishing company Asahina & Wallace (their tag: "Publishing L.A" -- woo-hoo!). The journalist Leslie Cockburn was reading from A&W's maiden title Baghdad Solitaire, an insiderist thriller set in Iraq just after the fall of Saddam Hussein. We were content to nosh on charteucerie and Pinot and listen to Cockburn's bracing prose when one of A&W's cofounders, Emmy Award-winning producer and former Rolling Stone editor Robert Wallace, a jazz nut who shares his birthplace of Nogales, AZ with Charles Mingus, announced that there were a few other writers who would be publishing in the future with A&W who were present. And we were one of them.
"...and in the back is Matthew Duersten, who is working on a book for us about the history of jazz in Los Angeles."
Okay. Gauntlet thrown down. It's on like Neal Schon.* Thank you, Bob, for calling us out and making this finally in the realm of the real and out of the safely cocooned provinces of our imagination.
We plan that the book -- currently titled On the Sun Ship: How Jazz Survived in Los Angeles -- will be mixture of personal observation, journalism and scholarship. It sort of grew out our extremely semi-annual series The L.A. New Music Snerd's Dictionary of Terms (of which there were a whopping TWO entries). We figure that since there's a current musical renaissance happening in Los Angeles (some signposts of this: the blue whale, OFWGKTA, Brainfeeder) and how this has been rather surprisingly noticed by the non-L.A. music press, it's a good time to bring into the light the long and storied history of vanguard music in a city not normally known for musical innovation -- after all, this is where smooth jazz, soft rock and fusion were born -- and that this has been going on since approximately the 1920s. We argue that in order to survive in a city like Los Angeles, jazz had to become something else, something less New York or Chicago than the sum of the city itself: A myriad of esoteric influences that transcends categorization and reflects its ethnic harmony as well as its confusion. In many ways, the music being made in the nonmainstream fringes of L.A. from the 1950s on anticipated the borderless "global jukebox" now available to anyone with a laptop and Wi-Fi.
But we also realize we will probably have to devote most -- if not all -- of what remains of our free time to this book. (Yes, the Beast has a P.T. day job.) Which means StompBeast will be updated sporadically, periodically -- perhaps once a week -- with anything cool or interesting that hooves its way into our line of vision that we just HAVE to spout off on. We also will be continuing to contribute to Los Angeles magazine and its attendant blog.
Mostly, however, StompBeast will become an ongoing log/diary/daily affirmation of our progress on the book, with perhaps even some brief excerpts. This is a way of motivating ourselves by doing what the Interwebs does best -- making the personal and private public -- while we build a buzz and an audience for this project. I can already imagine a Kickstarter campaign to fund my plane ticket so I can finally go and interview Ornette Coleman. Yeah, we know: Good luck with that.
As our friend Alex Cline would say: ONWARD!!!
*In the Midwest, this is pronounced like the word "on."