Hey, New Yorker: When it comes to jazz, do you do more than sneer?

new yorker jazzAt first glance, the chief crime of The New Yorker‘s latest “humor” column is that it’s not funny, and that it struggles to reach even the low bar of “mildly amusing.” (Read it for yourself, and let me know what you think).

Except that the biggest offense is this: The New Yorker, based in the city that remains the jazz center of the world, once offered loads of smart, literate, entertaining, insightful coverage of the music. Now, the magazine almost never covers jazz, aside from a steadily decreasing footprint in the listings section.

And when it does deign to offer jazz coverage, a column that sneers at the music is the best The New Yorker can do? Seriously?

Remember the last time The New Yorker made a splash with a jazz piece? It was another largely unfunny “humor” bit, a fake interview with Sonny Rollins, the great tenor saxophonist who remains alive and, at that point, may even have still been performing. The obvious question: Why not do a legit piece on Rollins? That column (poorly labeled as humor) did an even more troubling disservice by leading some to believe that Rollins, a great and gentle spirit in addition to being an enormously creative artist, said some of the drivel the “fake” Rollins was quoted as saying.

Maybe I should make a direct plea to Bob Sauerberg, president/CEO of Conde Nast, which owns The New Yorker. Bob happens to be a schoolmate of mine, from the Lakeland (Florida) High School class of ’79.

—————-

Hi, Bob.
As a longtime jazz journalist and musician, and your old Lakeland acquaintance, take it from me: New York remains JAZZ HQ, a place where on any given night you can see a huge range of artists in a wide variety of venues practicing America’s great musical art form. As you may (or may not) know, you won’t find that volume of high- caliber jazz in any other city in the world.

The New Yorker, given its long, fabled history and identity as a purveyor of serious arts and entertainment criticism (among other content), and, of course, its location in NYC, has a unique opportunity to be an important and influential voice for jazz.

I’d call it an awesome responsibility, one that’s even more pressing now that the New York Times seems to be in no hurry to fill the gaps in jazz coverage left by the departures of first-rate music writers Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff.

So … will you consider beefing up the jazz coverage in The New Yorker? I’d happily point you in the direction of jazz writers, New York-based and otherwise, who could support the cause. Heck, I’d be glad to help edit/coordinate such coverage. Or contribute some pieces.
It would be great to hear from you, Bob.

Sincerely,
Philip

(jphilipbooth@hotmail.com)

 

NPR Music’s Best Jazz of 2014: Steve Lehman, Wadada Leo Smith, Ambrose Akinmusire, more

New releases by saxophonist Steve Lehman, trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins topped the 2014 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll (I voted), organized by longtime jazz writer Francis Davis.

Also in the top 10: Releases by Mark Turner, Marc Ribot, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Kenny Barron & Dave Holland, and Jane Ira Bloom. A wide swath of critics — 140 — were polled for their choices, and they nominated more than 700 albums for honors.

John Coltrane’s “Offering” was named best reissue, with best vocal album award going to Andy Bey, best debut to drummer Jeff Ballard, and best Latin to pianist and bandleader Arturo O’ Farrill.

For Davis’s thoughts on the Top 10 recordings, along with audio clips, and links to all of the voting data (including my ballot) assembled by Tom Hull, click here.

The Washington Post Says Jazz is Dead — Again? Really? Seriously?

If jazz is dead, then why are the would-be hipsters trying so hard to kill it?

Last week, the New Yorker ran an unfunny and rather mean-spirited “satire” of Sonny Rollins, titled “In His Own Words.” Rather than offering a genuine interview with the 84-year-old jazz legend, the publication wasted space on a humor piece that didn’t even touch on several of the key episodes in the saxophonist’s career.

dunce cap

And now, another major publication, the Washington Post, hammers on jazz with a piece that reads like satire but, sadly, is not.

“Jazz has run out of ideas, and yet it’s still getting applause,” someone named Justin Moyer writes, in a column titled “All that jazz isn’t all that great.”

Right up front, Moyer admits that, while he studied with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Pheeroan akLaff and Jay Hoggard at Wesleyan, he found jazz “hard to grasp.” In his humble opinion, he has decided that jazz is “insubstantia.” and “hard to grasp.”

So, really, Washington Post, you assign someone who admittedly is clueless about jazz … to write about jazz? Smart thinking.

And why doesn’t poor Justin like jazz? Well, gosh, jazz is instrumental music, so it doesn’t have lyrics. Imagine the guy trying to come to terms with classical music. If only those loser composers had written lyrics …

And also, Johnny Hates Jazz, I mean, Moyer doesn’t like jazz because improvisation is involved — undoubtedly an art that’s far inferior to, you know, playing a tune exactly the way it was played on hit radio. Moyer has decided — all by himself — that the great and influential jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was “serviceable, forgettable.” How astonishingly ignorant can one writer be? Also: Eric Dolphy played “an atonal bass-clarinet solo” on the Charles Mingus Sextet’s version of “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

Moyer has also concluded that “jazz stopped evolving,” “jazz is mushy” (commercial) and “jazz let itself be co-opted.” In other words, Moyer hasn’t bothered to listen to any jazz since his college days, when he made a noble but failed attempt to understand the music. File under: a perfectly good jazz education wasted on youth.

“Jazz is plastic,” Moyer writes. “It’s a genre loosely defined by little more than improvisation, sunglasses and berets.”

Berets? does Moyer imagine that he’s still living in the Beat era? Somebody give the guy some bongos, and call it a day.

Here in 2014, during a time when more forward-thinking jazz is being played, recorded and distributed (online) than ever before, a click-baiting column like Moyer’s is loosely defined by little more than smoke and mirrors.

Next time, maybe the Post will assign a jazz column to a writer with jazz knowledge and experience, rather than a know-nothing simply looking to provoke a reaction. Unless, of course, the paper doesn’t care if and when its credibility is damaged.

 

Newk in Real Time: Sonny Talks!

It was nothing short of fascinating: Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the legendary jazz giant, streaming live, in an interview/conversation prompted by a weak and rather mean-spirited “satire” piece in The New Yorker.

“That hurt me,” Rollins, 83, said about the article. “Never mind me. It’s saying some very, very insulting things about jazz, very derogatory things about jazz. VERY derogatory things about jazz — the way it sounds, the way it’s played, the musicians, everything. I can’t even read the article now … can’t take it.

“They got to some people that really thought it was me. And what they were saying was scurrilous. It was nothing funny about that.”

Sonny, a brilliant, and highly spiritual creative artist, spoke with “Jazz Video Guy” Bret Primack, and touched on a variety of topics, including his disappointment when concluding that some readers believed the mag’s piece to be a real interview; his fondness for Mad magazine; the pitfalls of technology; the recurrence of the “jazz is dead” myth; his early years in Harlem; and his interest in truth seeking.

Along the way, he quoted Aldous Huxley, Plato, and Charles Mingus, and made passing references to Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

Most encouraging, for jazz fans, was his vow to return to the stage in a big way sometimes in 2015.

“I’m writing a lot of music, i’m thinking about a lot of music, I’m planning for a lot of music, and I’m anxious to get back,” he said “Because my legacy is not complete yet. I’m getting to a point. I feel like I’m close enough that I can make a better representation of my life — Sonny Rollins, a musician. Have a little more to say. So that’s what I’m doing now.”

Some of his most quotable quotes from the interview:

— “A lie goes around the world before the truth can put on its shoes. That’s too bad. That’s what technology has gotten us into now.”

— “Music is the 18th dimension. It’s something we are lucky to have.”

— “People love jazz all over the world. There’s something about jazz — the feeling, syncopation, the spirit of it. It makes people feel good. It’s a great spirit.”

— “They’re trying to kill jazz. But you can’t kill a spirit”

— “Jazz is one of the most humorous musics around. In my own playing, people say, ‘Oh, did you hear what Sonny played? That was really funny. Jazz has a since of humor.

— “Jazz has been mocked, minimalized, marginalized throughout its whole history. Jazz is on the bottom of the floor here. … Why not satirize the rich and the powerful. Satirize that. Try to change something in the world.”

“It’s (jazz) something real. It’s something important in this world. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It helps people. It makes people feel better. It gives people something to strive for.”

— “When I was a boy, they used to call me ‘Jester.” I used to make jokes … and all that. So I love humor.”

— “Jazz is free music. Jazz used to typify America. America used to be the land of the free, home of the brave, remember? That’s what jazz is. It typifies that — Its syncopations, its melodies, the way you improvise, you pull things out of the air. That’s genius. And that’s jazz.”

— “Jazz isn’t going to die. And why should it die? Do you want freedom to die?”

— “Music is beyond politics. It’s beyond economics.

— “There’s something beautiful about life as expressed through music.”

— “One day, as a boy, it came to me that I was going to be successful in my career, in my life as a musician. And I have. So I don’t know if everybody is going to be as successful as I am, or not. But that’s not the point. Everybody can’t be John Coltrane. Everybody can’t be Miles Davis. But we need music, still. So we have to have people playing music. People want to hear music.”

— “When I play my saxophone, I get into a zone. That’s where truth exists. All these kids that are trying to learn their instruments — that’s where they should be. That’s the most beautiful place in the world. You’re not hurting anybody. You’re learning. You’re trying to communicate with whatever higher power you believe in. That’s where we should be going. That’s why this piece was so damaging. Because it mocked that.”

— “Music is celestial. Let’s not forget that.”

 

Jesting About Sonny in The New Yorker: Funny, or a Wasted Opportunity?

“The saxophone sounds horrible. Like a scared pig,” Sonny Rollins says, in a short feature in The New Yorker, headlined “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words.” He continues: “I never learned the names of most of the other instruments, but they all sound awful, too.”

Except that, of course, Sonny didn’t say that, or anything else he’s quoted as saying in the story.

Because, you see, it’s a humor piece, filed under the mag’s “Daily Shouts” section, and penned by Django Gold, best known as a writer for satirical publication The Onion.

sonny rollins

Problem is, it’s just not that funny. Yeah, I get the references, but it’s mainly weird, and a little bit mean.

And some who casually stumble across the piece online might mistake it for the real thing, and wonder why Rollins is being so wacky.

The bigger issue, for me, is this: As little jazz coverage as appears in The New Yorker and other mainstream (non-music) publications, why would the mag devote space to a satire piece on a major artist? Why not, you know, use that space for a legitimate story on Rollins or another major jazz artist?

Just seems like a wasted opportunity.

(Also, was Rollins told about the coming publication of the piece? Not that permission is required for satire. Just wondering).

Here’s the piece.

 

Give the Bass Player Some: Ron Carter & Esperanza Spalding Top 77th Annual DownBeat Readers Poll

Veteran bassist Ron Carter and young bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy-winning star, grabbed the top spots in this year’s DownBeat Readers Poll.

Carter, an enormously influential double bass master heard on thousands of jazz recordings, a successful solo artist but probably best known for his association with Miles Davis’s second great quintet in the ’60s, was ushered into the Hall of Fame, just beating blues legend B.B. King.

Spalding, a gifted vocalist, upright and electric bassist, and songwriter who has wowed audiences as a leader and as a member of Joe Lovano’s US FIVE band (#14 in the Jazz Group category), won in the categories of Jazz Artist and Jazz Album of the Year, the latter for her pop-infused “Radio Music Society.”

Interestingly, neither won in the two bass categories: Christian McBride won for (double) Bass, while Stanley Clarke, who rode Return to Forever to stardom, won for Electric Bass.

Wayne Shorter, Carter’s old colleague in that Miles band, won in two categories — Soprano Saxophone, and Composer

The more than 17,000 voters in the poll, somewhat surprisingly, honored the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the Jazz Group category, and Big Band honors went to the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose leader also won for Arranger.

(Complete list of winners)

Other honorees:

  • Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis
  • Trombone: Trombone Shorty
  • Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett
  • Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins
  • Baritone Saxophone: James Carter
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen
  • Flute: Hubert Laws
  • Piano: Brad Mehldau
  • Keyboard: Herbie Hancock
  • Organ: Joey DeFrancesco
  • Guitar: Pat Metheny
  •  Violin: Regina Carter
  • Drums: Jack DeJohnette
  • Vibes: Gary Burton
  • Percussion: Airto Moreira
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans
  • Female Vocalist: Diana Krall
  • Record label: Blue Note
  • Blues Artist or Group: B.B. King
  • Blues Album: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton, “Play the Blues: Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center”
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Robert Glasper
  • Beyond Album: Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio”

For more on the poll, including interviews with the winners, get the mag’s December issue or click here.

Straight Ahead: 16th Annual JJA Awards; UF jazz prof/trumpeter Gary Langford honored; Herb Snitzer a photography nominee

Jazz musicians and the music’s movers and shakers will be honored in 40 categories at the 16th annual Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Jazz Awards, slated for June 20 at the Blue Note in NYC.

Pianists Horace Silver (left) and Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter are up for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards.

Saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods and Joe Lovano, pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarists John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell,  drummer Paul Motian, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and singers Kurt Elling, Freddy Cole, Tierney Sutton and Karrin Allyson are among the other veteran musicians nominated for awards, as well as rising-star talents including bassist Esperanza Spalding,  trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, guitarist Mary Halvorson, vibist Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland.

(A Tampa Bay area note: The gifted St. Petersburg-based photographer Herb Snitzer, whose work was featured at the Tampa Museum of Art in recent months, is up for the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography)

Organ Monk, a quartet led by Greg Lewis, will play the event, along with two duos: singer Paulette McWilliams and pianist Nat Adderley, Jr., and guitarist Gabriel Marin and bassist John Ferrara.

The ceremonies will also honor esteemed jazz writer Albert Murray with the “Music and Words” award, co-sponsored by the JJA and the Jazz Foundation of America.

A number of Jazz Heroes–  “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” — will be honored at a series of affiliated JJA Jazz Awards satellite parties in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Schenectady, and Tucson, as well as locations in Ca nada and New Zealand.

Two of those parties will be held in Florida — June 20 at B-Sharp’s Jazz Club, and June 21 at Leonardo’s 706 in Gainesville. I’m happy to say that the jazz hero being honored in Gainesville is my former jazz band director at the University of Florida, the gifted trumpeter and very influential educator Gary Langford. The Marty Liquori Jazztet will play that event.

Here’s the official citation for the award, as written by JJA member Dustin Garlitz:

“R. Gary Langford is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who as UF’s Director of Jazz Studies from 1981-2006 regularly taught a popular jazz history course that introduced thousands of undergraduates to the music. A trumpeter who, during his graduate studies at North Texas State University was a soloist with the One O’Clock (Jazz) Lab Band, he’s also an accomplished arranger and composer.

Gary held offices in the International Association of Jazz Educators, Florida Unit (President from 1984-1986), and was honored by IAJE in 1982-1983 as its Outstanding Jazz Educator.  He has been the recipient of many other honors: Teacher of the Year from UF’s College of Fine Arts, a TIP award for excellence in teaching, twice a finalist for the prestigious UF Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award, the Foundation For The Promotion of Music’s 1997 Musician of the Year and the 1998 College Music Educator of the Year for the state of Florida (conferred by the Florida Music Educators Association).  In 1999 he was awarded the prestigious “Distinguished Service to Music Medal” by Kappa Kappa Psi, the national band fraternity and he was named most co-UF Teacher of the Year for 2006-2007.

He has directed numerous county, district and all-state bands, including the Alachua County Youth Orchestra; he’s been music director and conductor for more than 25 years.  He’s a Gainesville Jazz Hero deserving wider recognition, and thanks to the JJA is getting some.”

More info on the Gainesville event is here.

The NYC Jazz Awards gala is a fundraiser for the 24-year-old JJA, which numbers jazz writers, broadcasters, photographers, new media producers and other supporters of jazz journalism among its membership (I’m a longstanding voting member).

For more info on the JJA, visit the organization’s site – Jazz House. Complete details on the JJA Jazz Awards 2012 is available here.