Joseph Alessi

As Roger Kimball has thoughtfully mentioned—what a prince—I have a new collection out: Digging In. Pardon the plugola. Yesterday, online, National Review published an essay from it: “Books and Covers.” Can you judge a book by its cover? Well, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. What is required is discretion. And a willingness to be surprised.

I’d like to tell you a story. Last week, I was covering a concert of the New York Philharmonic. (You’ll read about it in TNC.) On the program were two new works: a trombone concerto by Bill Bolcom and a symphony by Wynton Marsalis. The soloist in the concerto was Joseph Alessi, the Philharmonic’s first-chair player. For the symphony, the Lincoln Center jazz band joined the Philharmonic. Marsalis himself sat in.

After the symphony, the group played an encore. Group? I mean the jazz band, joined by the concerto soloist from earlier in the evening: Joe Alessi. They jammed for five or ten minutes, hotly.

Okay, flash-forward to the next concert, two nights later. Before the downbeat, a lady in the aisle is talking to her friend. I’m going to do some profiling—some stereotyping. This lady was a classic Upper East Side type, beautifully dressed, with all the right opinions. The right progressive opinions, that is.

Now, I could be wrong. (This is in part what my essay is about.) She could be a devotee of Fox News. She could have a picture of Sheriff Joe Arpaio on her vanity. I don’t know.

In any case, she is talking to her friend about the previous concert. “He was an oxymoron!” she exclaims, referring to Alessi. “Here was this conservative-looking, bald man, playing this jazz!”

And I think, “You poor dear. You haven’t a clue. Someone has stuffed your mind with nonsense, about jazz and its history. Who did this to you? Ken Burns? Music knows no shape or size or color, believe me. Brass players in orchestras all over the world can blow damn hot. So can other winds.”

Anyway . . .

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