29 sept. 2008

The real rap on Wynton, of course, is not just that he is a little dull as a player, but that he has created this whole reactionary aesthetic around jazz, along with the tendentious and misguided Stanley Crouch. If jazz really was essentially complete by 1960 or 1965 or so, as Wynton and Crouch seem to believe, then it makes sense that he himself wouldn't be part of that history: from his own perspective he is coming too late to the game. The only thing left to do is educate and popularize, to make jazz into a museum music. Isn't that the aim of Jazz at Lincoln Center? We already had Duke Elliington. We don't need another Duke Ellington, not as inspired as the first. We don't need Harry Connick to mimic Sinatra, or Natalie Cole to sing karaoke duets with recordings of her father's voice. We certainly don't need Kenny G to dub his sax onto Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World." Those things don't bring the music to life--they kill it.

Look at how Mingus reprised jazz history--the sanctified church, Jelly Roll Morton, Lester Young, Ellington--without making it into a museum music.

If Wynton were just another player, it wouldn't be worthwhile even criticizing him. It's the institutional role that he plays that's truly obnoxious. I cringe when I see him commenting on Ornette in that Ken Burns documentary. Shouldn't they have Ornette commenting on Wynton instead? Of course, Ornette's agenda is not to criticize other people, but you get the idea... Given the NPRification of jazz, it's inevitable that Burns would turn to Wynton and Crouch and others of that mind set.

7 comentarios:

Jacob Russell dijo...

I am only surprised that there hasn't been more of these observations of poor Wynton--who seems to have transferred to jazz this deification of history, of reproduction... something profoundly incommensurate in this transference--where, in so-called "classical music" (more accurately labeled "European Concert Tradition), the creativity really does reside in ever renewed interpretation of the canonical text... but in jazz, the task of the musician is to is reinvent the canonical text, not merely reinterpret it. Each generation builds on what they've inherited, but only to replace it... replete with quotes and deferential nods to the shoulders they stand on...

Even composers in that "classical" tradition get it... do that... but poor Wynton... is a trumpet player with great chops... and a borrowed imagination.

Bob dijo...

Marsalis always talks about this hard-to-define thing called "swing." To me "swing" means forward-propelled musical excitement and interest. Things are happening now and NEXT! Wynton doesn't have that, though he understands that is important TO have that.

Jonathan dijo...

There have in fact been quite few of these remarks about Wynton--so much so that I hesitated before "piling on."

Jay dijo...

. . . and yet many still see Wynton as one of *the* authoritative voices on jazz.

Years ago, I attended a lecture of his and was surprised at how annoyed he became during the discussion, when someone mentioned that a lot of great swing was simply the dance and pop music of its day -- without pretention, but with plenty of greatness. He bristled that great jazz could have anything to do with pop. This was around the time that Miles Davis (to whom I gave credit) had just released his interesting cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

Tom dijo...

It's funny you mention Kenny G and that you had mentioned Pat Metheny as one of the more recent jazz players you liked. It brings to mind Metheny's rant on Kenny G. I'll paste it here for your information:

"Kenny G is not a musician I really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. There was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records.

I first heard him a number of years ago playing as a sideman with Jeff Lorber when they opened a concert for my band. My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble - Lorber was basically playing him off the bandstand in terms of actual music.

But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again). The other main thing I noticed was that he also, as he does to this day, played horribly out of tune - consistently sharp.

Of course, I am aware of what he has played since, the success it has had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and serious listeners. This controversy seems to be largely fueled by the fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years. And honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially, especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisors and musicians in general have trouble just making a living. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments. It would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

Having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz musicians (myself included, given the right "bait" of a question, as I will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what he is playing is not even jazz at all. Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. It's just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians. So, lately I have been advocating that we go ahead and just include it under the word jazz - since pretty much of the rest of the world OUTSIDE of the jazz community does anyway - and let the chips fall where they may.

And after all, why he should be judged by any other standard, why he should be exempt from that that all other serious musicians on his instrument are judged by if they attempt to use their abilities in an improvisational context playing with a rhythm section as he does? He SHOULD be compared to John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter, for instance, on his abilities (or lack thereof) to play the soprano saxophone and his success (or lack thereof) at finding a way to deploy that instrument in an ensemble in order to accurately gauge his abilities and put them in the context of his instrument's legacy and potential.

As a composer of even eighth note based music, he SHOULD be compared to Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver or even Grover Washington. Suffice it to say, on all above counts, at this point in his development, he wouldn't fare well.

But, like I said at the top, this relatively benign view was all "until recently".

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track "What a Wonderful World". With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can't use at all - as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

This type of musical necrophilia - the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers - was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on "Unforgettable" a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. When Larry Coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a Wes Montgomery track, I lost a lot of the respect that I ever had for him - and I have to seriously question the fact that I did have respect for someone who could turn out to have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.

But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture - something that we all should be totally embarrassed about - and afraid of. We ignore this, "let it slide", at our own peril.

His callous disregard for the larger issues of what this crass gesture implies is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason he possibly have for doing something this inherently wrong (on both human and musical terms) was for the record sales and the money it would bring.

Since that record came out - in protest, as insignificant as it may be, I encourage everyone to boycott Kenny G recordings, concerts and anything he is associated with. If asked about Kenny G, I will diss him and his music with the same passion that is in evidence in this little essay.

Normally, I feel that musicians all have a hard enough time, regardless of their level, just trying to play good and don't really benefit from public criticism, particularly from their fellow players. but, this is different.

There ARE some things that are sacred - and amongst any musician that has ever attempted to address jazz at even the most basic of levels, Louis Armstrong and his music is hallowed ground. To ignore this trespass is to agree that NOTHING any musician has attempted to do with their life in music has any intrinsic value - and I refuse to do that. (I am also amazed that there HASN'T already been an outcry against this among music critics - where ARE they on this?????!?!?!?!, magazines, etc.). Everything I said here is exactly the same as what I would say to Gorelick if I ever saw him in person. and if I ever DO see him anywhere, at any function - he WILL get a piece of my mind and (maybe a guitar wrapped around his head.) "

Jonathan dijo...

I've seen that quote. The only irony is that Armstrong's "Wonderful World" is quite awful in the first place. If he hadn't recorded crap like that then Matheny would have nothing to complain about.

Ron dijo...

It's the same basic impulse as we get with the School of Q in poetry, and no doubt driven by the same impulses from within.