Buddy BlueFreaks out in the Museum of Jazz
In 11th century China, the wealthy would wrap the feet of their daughters to retard their growth. Unnaturally petite footsies were considered a sign of beauty much distinguished, at least, from the lower-class girls' feet, which had been allowed to grow without restriction. The practice was outlawed in the 20th Century.
So, is jazz a dead Chinese woman's foot?
In this analogy, artists like Nicholas Payton and Wynton Marsalis are doing the wrapping, playing to preserve jazz' original form and preventing growth in the process. This is the sentiment of many critics local American music aficionado Buddy "Blue" Siegal among them.
"Everything that I've heard Wynton Marsalis perform has been technically superb, but I always get the feeling that his underwear's too tight and it's pinching his nuts. It always just sounds too scholastic, too scrubbed up," Blue explains, sitting in the backyard of his modest La Mesa home, his hands occupied by a Michelob Ultra and a Camel 'Crema' cigarette. The guitarist's ambitious belly presses against his black tank top, which reads: "Beer: Helping Ugly People Have Sex Since 1862."
Blue is a flat-mouthed intellectual words like "doldrums" flow as easily from his lips as "fuck." He's not afraid to openly criticize those he feels deserve it L.A. Times music editor Robert Hilburn, local promoter Victor Paaen and Reader columnist Ken Leighton but details their offenses so articulately that his sour grapes sound more like a vintner's reserve.
It's doubtful that Wynton Marsalis has the poor taste to get a Ren and Stimpy tattoo. But he also probably isn't loyal enough to permanently ink blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins onto his left bicep to commemorate recording with him.
Blue has both.
With a thick, pseudo-handlebar moustache, a rockabilly grease-coif and tattoos of Ren, Lightnin', Cab Calloway, his baby girl Lulu, his dead cat and something he explains only as "a bad day," this guy is anything but your archetypical jazz erudite.
Yet the former Beat Farmer, whose last solo album was a historian's take on jump blues, just released Sordid Lives 13 songs of unfiltered vocal jazz.
"I wanted to do something a little greasier, a little looser, a little more fun. The guys I was listening to, that was what they were all about," he explains, reverentially citing names like Chet Baker, Mose Alison and Ken Nordine. vThese are the guys that intrigued me, that were oddball jazz musicians. I'm not here to say I'm the greatest thing that ever happened, that I'm here to "rescue jazz from the doldrums." My only hope is that this album is unique and it's different from any other jazz album people have heard in a while."
Blue isn't new to jazz his past records are all spotted with post-bop workouts. He attributes the larger perception of him as a blues artist to The Beat Farmers' Country Dick Montana, who gave him the nickname Buddy ÒBig Bladder BlueÓ for the Òtorrential leaks" he would take in parking lots during gigs.
The liner notes of Sordid Lives serve as Blue's new manifesto. Currently a music critic for the Union-Tribune, OC Weekly and San Jose Mercury News, he writes in apt high-low brow on the topic of jazz: This is not music to be dressed up in a tuxedo and presented as a museum piece. Nor should it be insipid crap utilized as background music to perform missionary position sex!
Blue explains it was the idea of his record label, Los Angeles-based Bizarre Planet Entertainment, to affront the classicists. He didn't object.
"They wanted me to write something that would be offensive to people, I guess, which I don't have any problem doing," he says. "I'm well-known as this old fart who thinks everything is going wrong in the music business, and I do think that."
There are three easily identifiable times, however, when Blue doesn't come off like a jaded old fart: when heÕs playing Òupside downsies' with his baby daughter; when he's talking about his dog Moe; and when he's romping through feel-good bebop songs like ÒUptown at Minton's."
Sordid Lives doesn't reinvent jazz it just greases the joints with the sensibility of a guy who drinks Michelob. Blue and his band switch smoothly from Cab Calloway-like jumpers to low-swinging blues-jazz to West Coast cool a la Dave Brubeck. The tales are populated by degenerate drunks, "barflies and coyote women," Coltrane, bourbon, Ward Cleaver, murder, Harlem, Monk, comic books, the devil, Robert Mitchum movies, poverty, Kool cigarettes, "chicken rhythm and matzoballs," Chet Baker, Marcus Garvey and a whole lot of wine as medication.
If Tom Waits decided to lighten up and make a swingin' jazz bar album.
But Blue's tour this July won't be in the sorts of bars he's used to Starbucks has purchased 6,000 units of Sordid Lives and is sponsoring a month-long tour of Sheraton Hotel bars (the chain has a relationship with the coffee company.)
"For me, this is like a vacation," he says. "It's a lot different than a rock "n" roll tour where you're staying in flea-bag hotels, eating at McDonald's and everybody's farting in the van and wanting to kill each other."
Though Blue praises Dizzy's nightclub, Jazz 88.3FM and local musicians like Charles McPherson and Joe Marillo, he knows that San Diego is still a "B-market" for jazz. Cultural economics dictate that he take this show on the road.
"I'm always going to be loyal to San Diego," he says. "But the fact is this isn't a huge jazz market. If I was going to try and base my whole existence as releasing a jazz album in San Diego, I wouldn't be able to do it."
Then, interrupting himself: "You want another beer?"