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)

 

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.