Kay: Mike, what are your thoughts on the state of today’s jazz?
Mike: Well, Kay, I must say that I am somewhat disturbed by the fact that jazz seems to be losing its audience as of late.
Kay: Yes, there seems to be a trend in that direction with clubs closing and festivals booking artists from other genres. To what do you attribute this?
Mike: Well, in my estimation, there are a number of contributing factors. For one, I think we are living in very disturbing times when the equilibrium is out of whack not just for jazz but across the board.
Kay: Can you elaborate on that further?
Mike: I see it as an acceptance of attitudes that are present in today’s society that are detrimental to the welfare of society and to all of mankind in general. We are living in the age of “entitlement.”
Kay: What exactly do you mean by that?
Mike: Well for example, you can go on line right now and download every recording that John Coltrane ever made for free on these so-called torrents sites. This is true with the recordings of many other artists of stature as well. I, for example have a DVD series out called the Rhythmic Nature of Jazz along with 9 other jazz education publications. It wasn’t too long before I started seeing advertising of my work on sights offering free downloads of it. The people who download it for free have an attitude that they are entitled to do so with no concern for what this type of thing leads to. In short it throws off the equilibrium of commerce… then they wonder why they can’t find work.
Kay: Yes, you have a point here because it discourages creativity if people think they can’t make a living from what they create they just stop creating. A sort of stagnation seems to be settling over the art and music communities. Its as though the people doing this do not care about the consequences of their actions for others as well as themselves.
Mike: I even know of a situation in a college where the instructors offered higher grades for students who would buy tracks from Itunes that they were assigned to study in classes rather than steal them from a torrents site and the students didn’t care about their grade and preferred to download them for free.
Kay: What can be done about this in your estimation?
Mike: Well, I think that one thing that is a mistake is to blame the people downloading stuff. The real criminals here are the people making it available for them to do so.
Kay: Well, their argument is that they are giving it away and not selling anything and so therefore they are not doing anything wrong. What is your response to this?
Mike: It is bullshit! Go to one of those sites and what you will see is advertising for a variety of products which means that they are making their money by selling ads on their sites by illegally uploading other people’s work and products and offering it for free to attract traffic to their sites and based on the traffic they sell ads to advertisers. They are earning bogus livelihoods by usurping values created by others and illegally profiting from it while the real artists and creative people are unable to earn a living from their work.
Kay: This is so true Mike. Do you think the government should step in to do something about it?
Mike: Well they tried but backed off when all the crybabies started to scream “government censorship.” So protecting copyright owners from having their work ripped off is government censorship is it???!!!
Kay: You are right Mike. It is as if we are heading towards an abyss and nobody gives a damn!
Mike: No, as long as they get their instant gratification, nobody seems to care where things are going and it is going to come back and bite them in the ass at some point. It is what I was referring to about today’s society seemingly on a collision course that leads to disaster while not caring about the consequences to themselves or others.
Kay: Well, getting back to today’s jazz specifically. What is your assessment of what is taking place now in the field of jazz and why do you suppose that it is losing its audience as you mentioned earlier.
Mike: I see a lot of ignorance and dishonesty involved in many of the cases. It is not the young people’s fault but rather the fault of the people leading them. I know Oscar Peterson awhile back made a big controversy at a JENC convention when he blamed the condition on today’s journalists and critics.
Kay: Did you agree with his assessment?
Mike: In some part, but not entirely. I think there are still some very knowledgeable journalists out there that have much to contribute and are a necessary element of the jazz community. There are also some who fit the category of what Oscar was trying to get across.
Kay: Can you elaborate on that for us?
Mike: Well it is a complicated subject and to understand my point of view I will quote a few things I gleaned from Igor Stravinsky. One thing that stands out is his statement that, “No new music comes from anything but tradition.” Another that I think is relevant is, “Music by its very nature is incapable of expressing anything. Music expresses itself.”
Kay: How are these statements relative?
Mike: Well, what Stravinsky meant by the statement about “tradition” is that the process that produces new music comes from musicians digesting the tradition that is in place and then allowing the music to take them to a new level.
Kay: The music takes them?
Mike: Yes, that is what he meant by the second statement I quoted. For example, you here musicians saying things today like, “I’m trying to do something different.” Or critics saying, “There is nothing new or adventurous here” when reviewing a straight ahead date that swings. And this is all bullshit! They have been praising individuals who have not digested the principles that brought the music to the stage it has achieved and are trying to bypass them under the guise of “doing something different.” The one time classical music critic Henry Pleasants made a point in one of his books that Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker brought about an “organic change” in music and that it was the first one since the time of J.S. Bach. Most of the musicians playing today have not digested this and are trying to go around it instead of learning it and allowing their playing to EVOLVE naturally like John Coltrane did. Somebody who thinks they are TRYING to do “something different” is on an ego trip or has only a shallow or superfluous understanding of music in general and jazz in particular. TRYING to do something different is not in the same class as someone who is not trying to do anything but play well and something different happens. I recall, a few years ago, an interview in which Paul Desmond was interviewing Charlie Parker and posed the question to Bird, “How did you go about creating this new music?” And Charlie Parker’s response was, “I wasn’t trying to create a new music, it just happened.” This is a perfect example of what I am talking about. If I remember correctly Charlie Parker was trying to digest Lester Young’s playing at the time.
Kay: I see what you are saying. But what did you mean by your reference to “Ignorance and Dishonesty” before.
Mike: Well, let me elaborate. Recently I read in the New York Times a critic refer to a recording as “a perfect balance between classical and jazz.” To me that is an ignorant statement.
Mike: it is an oxymoron in my estimation since jazz and classical music operate under an entirely different set of physics. Both are valid, or course but when you try to combine them they begin to nullify each other and you end up with a diluted and meaningless sort of music in my estimation. I refer to it as “Taint Music.” T’aint quite classical and t’aint quite jazz. You know what a “t’aint” is don’t you?
Kay: Yes, I have heard the term but we won’t go into that. (LOL)
Mike: To me that kind of “jazz” sounds impotent and boring and results in an attempt to emasculate jazz.
Kay: What did you mean by using the term “dishonest?”
Mike: well, people like Diz, Miles, Cannonball, Coltrane, etc have set a certain standard in jazz. And people playing this “new way” know damn well that they have not digested the way these guys were playing. At best they have only learned to regurgitate “licks” or clichés they have lifted from their recordings. They have figured out what they played but HOW they were playing is still eluding them. For example, much of the playing from these masters resulted from a behavior in their touch that many musicians do not have a clue about and are simply coping the notes. The “dishonesty” comes in by the assumption that they are omitting these elements by choice rather than admitting to an inadequacy on their part.
Kay: Do you feel that swing and blues are essential to jazz?
Mike: If not, then what is?
Kay: It appears to me that there is an element in today’s jazz that is trying to eliminate these qualities.
Mike: Yes, the element made up of people that could never swing nor play the blues. (LOL)
Kay: Their argument is that all of that has been done before and it is time for jazz to move on now. I have heard this argument from more than one critic.
Mike: There are a couple of comments I will make in that regard. First of all this sometimes is expressed by an ilk in the world of critics that arrogantly assumes that they are supposed to play a role in the future of jazz or in the direction that jazz moves in. This is why they champion certain artists that they deem are doing something “new and different.” This is a total ego trip on their part because jazz will move ahead when it is ready to and not because of the efforts of any musician or arrogant critic with delusional fantasies of self–importance. And furthermore it is ludicrous to deem musicians that don’t swing as “new and different”. That has been around forever. It has been a fact that classical musicians have always had a problem with time and rhythm when attempting to play jazz and now this is being heralded as an important development in the field of jazz. How convenient! “Let’s eliminate the thing we can’t do and call it progress!” My feeling is that if you’re going to replace something you should replace it with something better. Not something that is not as good! Fortunately there are many great journalist in the jazz field who do not fit this profile and I salute them as they are the solution to this problem.
Kay: Do you think that today’s musicians should be playing like Diz, Miles, and Coltrane and the likes?
Mike: Not at all Kay. I think that to be a jazz musician you must be playing like yourself at all times or you are not playing jazz. What I am saying is that today’s musicians must digest what musicians like Trane and Diz, etc were doing in order for jazz to EVOLVE! That particular word is the key word to the point I am trying to make. Many of today’s musicians feel that if they know what notes these musicians played that they have digested their music and this is a false assumption I feel. It is the digestion of the concepts that made them play the notes that is missing. Many of the musicians being heralded by the type of journalism referred to earlier are not EVOLVED musicians and do not understand the tradition they claim to have “taken to a new level.” For example the aspect of touch that I mentioned earlier doesn’t mean that someone who figures it out must then use it to express the same things that Dizzy or the rest did. On the contrary. Who knows what heights it could lead to in the realms of harmonic and rhythmic exploration? However, you can’t tell me that someone who hasn’t digested these principles has “taken jazz to a new level.” That is just bullshit!
Kay: What do you say to the critic that claims they are tired of the old sounds and need to hear some new ones?
Mike: ((Uproarious laughter)
Kay: What are you laughing at?
Mike: I was just thinking of an old Richard Pryor joke that came to mind when you said that.
Kay: What’s the joke?
Mike: He was doing a routine in which his wife caught him cheating on her and he tells her he needed to get some strange p-------. And she replies something to the effect that “If you had two more inches of penis you could get some strange p----- right here!
Kay: (LOL) How does this apply to the critics that say they need to hear new sounds?
Mike: If they had two more inches of ears they could hear some new sounds right here!
Kay: (Uproarious laughter)