10 December 2008

Contradictions To Be Done Away With

(1) Louis Armstrong took his unconventional trumpet and vocal technique and figured out how to make great music with it, but Miles Davis just didn't know how to play the trumpet.

(2) Music that needs to be explained is too intellectual, but musicians that don't talk to their audience are arrogant.

(3) Jazz originated in the West, but it doesn't belong in a book or a course entitled "A History of Western Music."

(4) White jazz musicians who apply classical concepts to their jazz work are dishonoring jazz's African-American origins, but white jazz musicians who overtly imitate seminal African-American artists are just stealing from them for their own material gain, and/or because they have nothing original to say.

(5) No one wants to be labeled "avant-garde" by others (especially in person), but everyone labels themselves "avant-garde" given the chance (especially on their MySpace pages).


Kris Tiner said...

Right on! #1 especially needs to be seriously addressed. It's amazing how these oversimplifications still actually define much of the discourse. I suspect there's a subtle connection with your #2, in that a lot of historians aren't even willing to give Miles the benefit of the doubt, much less recognize what he actually did on the instrument.

Stefan Kac said...

It's funny, I work on these posts piecemeal and I actually thought of #1 and #2 several weeks apart, forgetting momentarily that Miles is probably the most (in)famous on stage non-talker in recent history. I was actually thinking more of classical music, since there seems to be a movement (no pun intended) afoot to bring more talking into the concert hall, whether pre- post- or during. Yet the point might still be more relevant to jazz, which even now is considered more closely aligned with "showbiz" and hence the idea of not talking to the audience is seen as even more outlandish.

nick z said...

1) this one surprises me... who are you hanging around with that says miles can't play? I never thought miles didn't know how to play. maybe because I was listening to him before I met any of the haters. by the time i heard anything negative about him, i had already forged a relationship with him through listening to his music. that really puts the haters in perspective... so much perspective that i cant even remember their names or faces... but i still can sing almost every trumpet solo from kind of blue, and some of the rhythm section playing from his mid-late 60s quintet still keeps me awake at night. bottom line: if you have bad things to say about miles, you need to listen to more of his music... your opinions will change.

2) i think musicians should all tell jokes between tunes.

3) shouldn't a book called "a history of western music" talk about hank williams and the carter family and roy rogers and gene autry?

4) well... charlie parker wouldn't have been shit had he not had an instrument on which to play... so i guess what I'm saying is that adolph sax pretty much invented jazz. and to deny this fact is dishonoring the european instrument makers who toiled all of their lives to make it easier for musicians to play a scale and play it in tune. and seriously, who the fuck is getting any kind of material gain playing jazz? who cares anyway... wynton can have jazz... we (white people) don't fucking need it. we (white people) have already got a kick-ass museum music of our own... it's called CLASSIC ROCK. and it makes tons more money in one week than stupid jazz does in an entire year. of the top ten grossing acts of 2008, five of them (including #1 overall) were classic rock bands (Bon Jovi, The Eagles, The Police, Bruce Springstein and Neil F'in Diamond). I tried to find out where the lincoln center jazz orchestra ranked but it only listed the top 98,000 money makers of the year... seriously though, this contradiction (#4) seems like a non-factor to me... It's so absolutely riddled with inconsistencies and hypocrisy, it doesn't even warrant a response. or at least a response greater than i have given up to this point.

5) my "myspace" page says I'm 2 step/Club/Death Metal. There's nothing about avant garde there. i don't think anyone really even knows what avant garde means... it's one of those words like "postmodern" that people use to describe shit they don't really understand. oh that was weird... it must be avant garde. i think everyone calls themselves avant garde on their myspace profiles because they associate it with being innovative and creative and everyone wants to think that they are those things... but if you say "I'm innovative and creative people will think you're a huge dick... so saying I'm avant garde is a code for people to say "Hey, I'm innovative and creative." without everyone thinking they are a huge pompous egomaniacal a-hole. and for the record (when it comes to music) i don't like to be labeled anything at anytime by anyone (how's that for being a pompous a-hole)... hence the cutesy myspace tags... which strangely enough still get me 3 or 4 friend requests a week from various death metal bands...

Stefan Kac said...


(1) Trumpet jocks, mostly. And being a brass player myself, I have to admit to having occasionally been unable to get over some of Miles' technical deficiencies...I mean, uh, personalized musical devices, especially when I was younger. It's one of those things that makes me wish I wasn't a musician so that I could come at it without all the mind pollution that is necessary to build technique and musicianship. I once met a musician with perfect pitch who said he couldn't listen to the MN Orchestra because they play too out of tune. I also know someone who can't listen to the Dave Holland Quintet with Billy Kilson because the latter doesn't play like a "real" jazz drummer. Sucks to be them, I guess. I never was a true "Miles-hater" and never will be. Even if I was, though, the contradiction with how Armstrong has been evaluated would still be glaring.

(2) If they told jokes like you tell when you're on stage, then I would have to agree.

(3) Yes, among (many) others.

(4) You could say that no one benefits materially from playing jazz, but even so, a lot of people benefit materially from the word "jazz," and hence a lot of people fight over ownership of the word "jazz" for material and non-material reasons. Are we paying them too much respect by even discussing this? I don't know. Chances are if we let them have the word, they'll let us have the music, and we can then go on playing the same way we were before.

(5) Not only do they want to convince others that they're innovative, they want to convince themselves. How's that for a little bit of amateur psychoanalysis? In any case, you seem to have taken the not terribly uncommon approach of purposely choosing genres that will elicit a chuckle or two rather than give a very good description of what you do, which is a great approach to take because none of them really can do this anyway, and by acknowledging that fact, you set yourself apart a little bit. As for another example of how these labels are abused, go on CDBaby sometime and browse by category. More than half of the "classical" section is decidedly jazz, pop, or improvised, and the jazz section is pretty much a random assortment of people who think there's material gain to be made from the word "jazz." (how's THAT for a little thematic development in a blog comment?)