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There is No Box

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

[Jason Parker], [@1WorkinMusician], recently [received a grant] to reinterpret Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left album. Based on how brilliant his quartet's cover of [Three Hours] is off his latest album, No More, No Less, this project will likely go well and I'm rather excited to hear it. [Drake's compositions seem to lend themselves to jazz covers]. This is not entirely unheard of. Brad Mehldau has been covering Drake for many years now. Classical pianist Christopher O'Riley has also released [an album of Nick Drake covers]. This sort of this most certainly isn't new. But for Parker to undertake the daunting task of covering an entire album, track by track (including the songs that probably won't work in a jazz sense like "Thoughts of Mary Jane" or "'Cello Song," but maybe I just don't have a vivid enough imagination), and forever brand himself as the one who felt he could repaint a masterwork oil painting in watercolors is certainly a lofty job. It's also the kind of thing for which jazz is made.

It is by no means a secret that we here at Nextbop are lovers of the jazz cover of the rock song. I have said time and again in conversation, print, and on my radio show that I believe strongly in the expansion of the jazz canon. We here believe in a wide plethora of influences. If Led Zeppelin can steal the blues and make them rock so hard that God himself had to throw the horns and maybe gyrate a bit doing his best Robert Plant impression (and I hear God Almighty does a good Plant, He being the one who created RP and all), then jazz musicians can certainly take from rock, folk, bluegrass, classical, and any other genre around to make it swing.

This is the nature of jazz. Those within the community who question this are really limiting the philosophy of the genre. Jazz is the first original American art form. It's "America's classical music." In its very origin and branding, it's a derivation of another form. It is a genre largely defined by its adaptability, its improvisation, its malleability, its vibrancy, its tendency to incite strong feelings, its auspiciousness, its adventurousness, its Laissez-faire. To say jazz should be so strict in its influences, tone, and canon is to go against jazz's very nature. How can a song do all it can with a very specific sound but only if it sounds like it came from New Orleans? How do you put a limit on a sense of adventure? How do you confine discovery?

And of these self-appointed purists, what do they really consider it when [Brad Mehdau covers Soundgarden], or [Herbie Hancock covers Nirvana], or [The Bad Plus cover Pink Floyd]? Pop? Oh, there are many who love Iverson, King, and Anderson but they certainly aren't popular (yet!).

So when I say I'm excited to hear the Jason Parker Quartet cover Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left album, I'm not just whistling "Dixie" (I mean, as a black man, I wouldn't be comfortable whistling "Dixie" in the first place. "I wish I were in the land of cotton" my black... ). Parker is trying something new. It's important for jazz. It's important for music. It's important for art. It's projects like this that make Miles Davis' cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Guinnevere" my favorite Miles tune (a sentiment I share with poet Saul Williams).

Art does new things. It questions convention. It makes us think, critically of society or critically of performance. It makes us move, politically or on the dance floor. It makes us feel, adoration or vitriol. Art is by no means something you put in a box, especially not jazz music.

Composed primarily via BlackBerry from T-Mobile, because I’m just awesome like that.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].

Three Hours by [Jason Parker] off the album No More, No Less
Black Hole Sun by [Brad Mehldau] off the album Live
All Apologies by Herbie Hancock off the albums The New Standard
Comfortably Numb by [The Bad Plus] off the album For All I Care