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Published: 2011/01/20
by Brandon Findlay

In The Year of the Kat(z)

Photo by Jennifer Coleman, Digital Suburbia Photography and Design


Words carry meaning, yet can be meaningless. Think I’m wrong? You can curse someone to the bone with gibberish if your venom is obvious enough. The meaning remains bigger than the vehicle.


Jambands carry meaning, yet can be meaningless as well. Think I’m wrong? No other genre (okay- modern jazz) allows its greatest practitioners to waste an hour and say nothing. The vehicle becomes bigger than the meaning.

Thus is the predicament of a wordsmith jamming on jambands, who sometimes jam out gibberish with no venom, much less beauty, relevance or semblance of Meaning. As a musician and writer devoted to his passions, I believe prevalent honesty provides the least obscured view of Meaning- but that doesn’t mean that the world needs another critic, or worse, polemic. It also doesn’t mean that the world should not encourage, should not extract, nor even be entitled to, something better than most of what it is getting.

Perhaps the only way any of us secure Meaning in this life is to first discover, then consider, the concept of Fascination. Equal parts Inspiration & Conviction, Fascination combusts on impact, and this detonation reaction (whether conversation, improvisation, or even sex) reveals a measure of Meaning in our life. The first climax, always sweetest, is the introduction. Then, until the thrill is gone, we will chase that reaction with vigor unstoppable. And since nobody makes it out alive, either I or my taste will have to wear out first- so damn the torpedoes, and continue pursuit.

In a year where I finally got to work for a journalistic hero (do you really still use Mindspring?), and continue to deepen my relationship with a true friend and mentor (Jefe’s gettin’ big in China these days), the writing side of my passion has blossomed in ways I only hoped when nine clicked ten.

Just as magically, the music side of my life has born fruit in less rare, more splendid ways. My wife Tina and I, known as bella soul, put out our first salvo in the war on musical poverty with the summative “Prelude To Genesis”, a compilation of live and studio cuts leading up to next April’s release of our first studio platter, “Genesis of the Exodus”- literally, the beginning of our leaving. While we hope the road will kindly open an avenue in 2011, even if that doesn’t happen, it lessens not the stages we will take, nor the songs we will give.

Most fascinating of all is the fascinating case of Bruce Katz. My last twelve months have been intertwined with his music, his presence, his artistry, even his stage. Decidedly not a review of his October 20th show in Des Moines, this is a review of another sort- a bit of life spent In The Year of the Kat.

Duke Ellington would describe musicians he appreciated as ‘beyond category,’ implying transcendence was the key to the heart of genius itself. As such, let me take a step back. Words are meaningless, remember? The vehicle cannot grow larger than the meaning, remember? I remind myself of this because I get just as tired of over-inflated hyperbole as anyone. That said, what follows is all true. I recall musicophiles and intelligentsia referring to such stylization as ‘non-fiction’, but I could be wrong. As such- again- perhaps it is best to follow more erudition from the annals of the Duke.

“The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.”- Edward Kennedy Ellington

Bruce Katz is wise, masterful, and dirty- unearthing such qualities with his hands amongst the muddy roots of American music. As much a devout student as a vaunted educator, wisdom is where his hands are. Dig into the delta of American music, and you will find an overwhelming abundance of our history strewn throughout his seven records as a leader, and more than sixty credits as the tastiest appetizer or dessert in the musical buffet of his friends.
When my first piece was published in March, it further acquainted Bruce to a crowd that was unfamiliar yet well-suited for him. His connections to the world of jams had substance, but like a hometown parade lacking in fanfare, his service went without notice or distinction in many cases.

Writers on music hope their words can convey the honesty they themselves feel for the art and artist. In best case, writers serve as word-born radars, helping connect art’s fleeting flight with the landing of newfound devotion. It is like brokering a love affair between artist and audience, minus the bloated flair of matchmaking for millionaires.

Published in conjunction with the Allmans’ stint at the United Palace, which featured a couple of Bruce sit-in’s, this was the third piece I’d written about Bruce, and perhaps my favorite.

“You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.”- Edward Kennedy Ellington

With Father’s Day came a Bruce Katz Band show. in Pomeroy, Iowa at one of the Midwest’s best venues, Byron’s. Byron’s is a crazy episode of a mid-Acid Test Cheers, with National Geographic doing a tie-dye’d investigation of farmtown counterculture. Hell yes, such a place of beauty exists.

“You are in I-O-Waaaay…”- The Music Man.

By this point in the year, Bruce had not only offered guidance in learning to play the piano- my 29th birthday resolution- but he and I had decided to write a book together. The concept was to mix autobiography, an unfaulted presentation of history, and a 21st century schizoid approach to the Hannon approach of approaching a canon of new music. I could say more, but why, when you will be able to buy the thing within the year.

So, on a planned day off after Byron’s, we started to brainstorm and get excited. In any conversation, you know something has gravity when it feels like what you just said didn’t really come from you. Happily, this process has had entirely too many of those moments- including our decision that we would look at music like highways of language: “Forget being multi-genre… I want to be multi-lingual.” I hope we have found our way of teaching it without teaching it.

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