Monday, 5 September 2011

Mouldy Figs or just jazz?

I was amazed to read this morning the fuss that's being stirred up from Kurt Rosenwinkel's Facebook post denouncing the state of jazz today. Fortunately for me I don't have Facebook, and certainly think that any posting via such a ridiculous site is a little lame, but that's another discussion. However it seems that various bloggers have moved in to give their view on the subject, and an interesting view it is. Here's the two blog-posts that inspired me to write a little something - Peter Hum and Ronan Guilfoyle (both interesting writers - and musicians - to follow on a regular basis). As I already mentioned I didn't (haven't) read the original posting that started all this off but wonder why there is so much confusion in what is and isn't good - in this case - jazz?

When I was at art college we had a class called 'value judgements' which meant discussing what is and what is not art. It was an interesting class and one that I have probably carried with me since those days as a way of accepting as much as possible. Often in the final analysis one can only say 'I don't like it' and nobody can argue with that, and if you're sensible you're open to change your opinion at a later date. The discussion being argued (about jazz) is who decides - musicians to be precise - who owns the quality control for jazz, or who sucks and who doesn't. Musicians have been arguing since ever, Louis Armstrong famously said that be-bop was Chinese  music. The boppers called the old school musicians 'mouldy figs', although they had far too much respect for Louis to say the same of him. One wonders what the jazz scene was like in 1930, were there as many 'bad' musicians around as now? I wonder what Armstrong or Buddy Bolden would of thought of Nate Wooley's Trumpet/Amplifier record (I wonder what Kurt Rosenwinkel would think also)? Probably best not to ask, some people can only understand and except their own view of the world, other ideas can be very unsettling.  I should add that remember that Lennie Tristano couldn't swing and was too intellectual,  John Coltrane played too many notes, his music was labelled 'anti-jazz', and that Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock was subversive music!

What is jazz anyway, and who's aloud to play it?

However, it seems Kurt Rosenwinkel's remark is based on the ability to play jazz, the ability to make it good and look after it (?). Dwayne Burno, another  musician who has strong opinions about quality control, seems to agree with KR and angrily says 'most jazz sucks today .... etc' (one should read what he says as it's too long to quote here). One has to wonder who sucks, and why? It is true, as Ronan Guilfoyle points out, that nowadays everybody thinks they should record and sell CDs, due to the facility in accessing recording technology, either on their own label or via the net. With the death of the music industry there is no more quality control -I'm not sure it was always 'good control'. But what frightens me more is the attitude of labelling good and bad, to swing or not, this is jazz and that isn't? The likes of King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, J.S.Bach, Steve Reich or Gang Starr  have - to name only a few - all had wide ranging influence over the direction of jazz, or should that be bad influence? Should we blame these influences or praise them and accept that this is a natural process in the development of jazz and other musics? Does that mean that we should be pure to the cause of jazz and if you listen to anything else then you should immediately remove the term jazz music(ian) from any references to you or your groups, not teach in any jazz type schools and the rest? I hope not!

I suspect that Kurt Rosenwinkel's remark was made without the intent to produce soooo much talk around the blogsphere as it has. What is probably more interesting is the reaction it has made and the rabid bile that it has inspired some people to write over what remains a very cloudy area as to who can and who can't. Finally James Hale says in a response to the Facebook post :

'.... young listeners who have wondered what they should check out in jazz. Maybe they just shouldn't bother; they can never be as good as Rosenwinkel or Burno. Someone better is always going to be judging you.'

If I understand him correctly I don't agree, after all that's exactly the point be your own voice and nobody can touch you, something that cannot be taught in a school. Maybe my Value Judgements class was right?

Footnote : If you're wondering who the soprano saxophonist is in the skip (and what he's doing), it's  the great Lol Coxhill. Lol is one of the icons of the improvised music world  and a bastion of self expression, he would be completely amazed that anyone would want to be anything else than themselves!


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