The Nathan Clevenger Group
Nerds are funny. Throughout their early school years they ostracized, treated as social outcasts and left to hover over their books alone. Some of them seek comfort in computers or sci-fi board games and end up as 57 year old virgins dying of junk food overdoses in their mothers’ basements. Fortunately for the nerd community, this but a small minority of nerds. Most of them go on to have high-paying jobs with nice houses and kids and really cool electronic gadgets. Better yet, in recent years nerdism has found its way to popularity, thanks in large part to the seemingly ubiquitous ironic hipster contingent.
Now, many people proudly boast about being Scrabble nerds, or total nerds for The Simpsons. Clunky awkward glasses and ugly sweaters can be found atop many a pair of skinny jeans. I’m not saying the jocks have stopped picking on them in high school or anything, but in many US cities, the nerds (or people who look like them) have mad swagger.
Which is why I have no problem admitting that I am a total nerd for urban planning. I love the intersecting uses of sociology and architecture. I totally get off on learning random facts about population density and how urban design affects our behavior. For example, did you know that small business are more likely to succeed on streets where people feel comfortable jay-walking? Or that cities are considered more desirable when they have museums, theaters and good restaurants (obvious) – even to the people who never go to those museums, theaters or good restaurants (not so obvious)?
It’s called existence value. It’s how you describe the cultural worth of something in a city in a tangible way. It means that even if you never go to the museum, you appreciate the fact that museums attract interesting people, which attract interesting businesses, which attract more interesting people, who do more interesting things, which makes your city a desirable place to live.
Which makes me think of jazz. Jazz has taken its lumps in the past few decades. As the last of the masters from the 60s and 70s permanently retire, jazz has more and more often been dragged into the realm of academia – or found refuge with the same kind of soulless honky who thinks listening to blues automatically makes him cool.
This is really sad because I love jazz. Most people, however, people think jazz is just ok. Sure, they would be happy to go to a jazz club or listen to some jazz at your dinner party. For them the existence value of jazz is pretty good. They don’t listen to it all the time, but they’re glad to know that it’s there. The thing is, these people probably can’t tell the difference between John Coltrane and Tom Whitey’s Jive Turkey Orchestra. As long as it’s got a ride cymbal and a saxophone, they’re happy.
The nerds among us, however, we know the difference. We know when something swings and when it doesn’t. We know when the compositions have brains, when the songs snap. The jazz nerds know when something is fresh and thoughtful. We know what it sounds like when good musicians lay back a little bit and let the line sink into deeper waters.
If you’re not sure where you stand on the spectrum of jazz listeners, I suggest you check out the debut album Evening Earth from The Nathan Clevenger Group. To the casual listener this may sound like difficult music. True enough, it doesn’t have the same instant appeal of a sugar sweet pop song or a thumping urban chart topper. I’ll even go so far as to say that if that’s what you’re looking for, this record is not for you. And that’s fine. Some of us like to eat at McDonald’s and some us prefer Chez Panisse. But if you count yourself among the latter group, then I suggest you check out this record.
Clevenger’s compositions are quick and cerebral. Stand out track “Low Resolution” hums with darkness and fog, a perfect soundtrack for a hung over rainy day or a dark night of the soul. The rest of the record sizzles and pops with articulate chord changes and Clevenger’s trademark dexterity with mode and time signature. Jazz of this calibre is an interesting art form, and it should be well received by all the boys and girls who like to throw on their thinking caps every now and then.
For the rest of you, please continue to enjoy Top 40 pop songs and fast food hamburgers. Lord knows they are delicious. Just don’t forget that there is other stuff out there, and that just by existing, it adds value to everything else.
‘Low Resolution’ (stream only)
‘Il Carciofo’ (stream only)