Clash of the mini-titans
...when jazz musicians collide...
My friend Syd sent me an e-mail full of what he called 'jazz quotes'... now Syd is a 'mature gentleman' and I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I attack these quotes a bit ... I love Syd, and I know he wouldn't take it personally.
But the more I dissected these quotes, the worse I felt. It's one thing to see someone you've always respected quoted as saying something nasty or mean - spirited in the 'Internet garbage heap', the user forums and chat rooms of Usenet and other 'cheap shot' cybernetic watering holes; quite another thing altogether to see the same quote turn up in a respected publication.
If you hear a rumor at the 'bar', you're less likely to repeat it as Truth than if you read it on the New York Times web site... (one hopes) ... so I was unpleasantly surprised to find that most of the incendiary hate - speak within the 'quotes' was actually taken verbatim from - you guessed it - The New York Times, web site and hard copy editions both.
And then I realized (no big revelation here) that it was NONE of my BUSINESS what K says about W or what P says about G.
So I scrapped the idea of writing about the whole sordid business. But it really hurt me to see the things like that keep popping up. SO I just cut out the quotes, the names, and the stories, and kept the comments. If you're a denizen of the deep dark corners of jazz portals on the Web, you'll know exactly who and what these stories are about. If you read the New York Times music critics or watch David Rose, you might recognize one or two the participants.
I just wanted to comment on something that means very much to me (our codes of conduct as musicians, or lack thereof) and I found a way to do it without lowering myself to the level of execrable behavior exhibited by some otherwise heavyweight company.
Every time I hear a musician publicly go on record saying something derogatory about another musician it hurts me. It hurts us all. Hopefully, it doesn't hurt the recipient of the attack as much as one might think (I think, in this case, that the recipient's ego is healthy and strong). It does hurt me, though. And it really hurts the person who uses the word against someone else.
In this particular case, his gift is too great for him to be playing around with this dark JuJu. He even gets racist ... he actually 'plays the race card', and this from a man whose race has been a touchy subject even to himself! I've seen it too many times (in print) from him, and after researching it, I can only say that I hope he stops using the word like this; he could die from the repercussions. He has already been very sick. The word can kill when it is used with evil intent.
We are in the position to create miracles. We must NOT create disease and illness; we are that powerful. Words are magic, and they can wound or heal, kill or create love. I have used it in bad ways and I have paid and I feel remorse. I dedicate myself to never doing that again. We all have to heal now.
It DOES NOT MATTER what you think about him or his Music, as it should NOT MATTER TO YOU what he thinks of you or your Music. This is what cheapens the MUSIC and it also cheapens our very lives (that we have devoted to it); it is NONE of your BUSINESS what he thinks or how he plays. Don't hire him if he doesn't play what you want or need to hear. Cease to speak publicly against his good name, as it cheapens the very great value of your own.
It's one thing to speak to a personal friend on the phone and voice your opinion. It's a free country. It's your dime. Just not in the New York Times. Do NOT presume to speak for us. Not all of us agree, and, if we do, we don't spread it far and wide. Call me. I'll listen and I might even agree. I just won't read any interviews with you, ever again.
And you! Just because I berated him so forcefully and spiritedly, don't think this doesn't apply to YOU, TOO! You've used the 'Haint too. You've conjured the JuJu too. You've used the word in ways unbecoming a person in the service of this great art form. You've painted with a very broad brush (assertions and assumptions dealing with women and other minorities, and this on national TV!) and, while I know that you've learned to keep quieter, quieter still is indicated! Speak loudly with your instrument, or speak with the word of good intent , and you can scream your head off.
Just don't go making sweeping and archaic generalizations about whole groups of people. Other than that, stop worrying about what they're saying about you and MAKE THAT MUSIC that we all know is in there! You scared the living heck out of all of us when we first heard you (I was there, in the basement with you, and one of our mutual great teachers, in whose employ you were then, was saying just this same thing to you. He was reading you the riot act. He was the greatest, was he not?)... he had hired you because you were so focused into the ART of the moment. You were so b-a-a-a-d and you knew it, and that was fine because you carried the flame and you were young, oh so very young to have such a weight to carry, but you did it!
Do it again, just like then, only do it and play about it NOW.
I'll promise to try and do the same. Or die trying. It's such a hard time to create. And I'm no angel either, no way. This is the time that our Music either seizes up and becomes about competition and petty bickering and mudslinging, or rises to accomplish what it was meant to do in the first place: to celebrate the sanctity of the human spirit and the total equality of all the world's people, and to participate in moving freedom and love forward in all of our lives, through the medium of our Music.
No small thing to dedicate one's life to.
Thankfully, a FEW of the quotes from Syd were very telling and hip. My notes are in bold
The outer space beings are my brothers. They sent me here. They already know my music. -Sun Ra- That is NOT a joke. The great Sun Ra definitely has extra - terrestrial origins, or at least connections, and his music is out of this world!
I was very happy and secure until I went into the army. Then I started to feel there was something I should know that I didn't know. -Bill Evans- I can't see Bill in a uniform of any kind, can you? It must have been totally out of sync with his spirit.
I don't expect people who listen to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to come hear me. I accept that reality. -Cecil Taylor- Cool. Except that I listened to them AND to you growing up, and dug you all!
Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread - without it, it's flat. -Carmen McCrae- No joke there!
Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing. -Duke Ellington- I have to think on that one, Sir.
My feeling is, music is a more eloquent international language than Coca - Cola or McDonalds. -Paul Horn- And MUCH better for your health!
I am the world's laziest writer. -Oscar Peterson- You are the world's most humble master.
How could you not be influenced by reading the same idiocies in ten different jazz journals? -Boris Vian- Change the channel, Boris. Read Kafka for awhile. (Meanwhile, folks, Boris paid good money for subscriptions to those ten journals ... wait, so did I ...)
It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play. -Dizzy Gillespie- Dig it! The Diz invented it.
I don't mind being the butt of a joke, if it's a funny joke. -Kenny G- I'm down with that, Kenny. Actually, you play with taste and restraint, you play with your heart, you play in tune, and you make so many people happy with your gift. I think the 'Let's Kill Kenny Crowd' is mainly made up of jealous, joyless misanthropes who have nothing to say on their instruments, so they say bad things about decent people. Keep it coming, Kenny. I love hearing your music in the stores at Christmas time ... it makes me cry!
I spent a lot of time playing in miserable places that were not a lot of fun. Somebody once said it is character building and I was like, 'my character is just fine.' -Diana Krall- It gets old fast, doesn't it? It's like I still hear, 'it'll be good exposure' and I say 'I'm dying of over - exposure.' We all need a good long rest after all the hoops 'they' made us jump through. It may take me several lifetimes just to catch up on my sleep!
-JW -Oct 05