Thursday, June 09, 2005

This guy hates jazz

I love when people use their platform to attack something, and in their attack, they demonstrate that they really have very little knowledge about what they claim to oppose so strongly. At least he likes Keith Jarrett-

I hate jazz. Except for this one guy

The Toronto Globe and Mail
Thursday, June 9, 2005

CBC's Radio Two, once the one auditory zone I could consistently return to for solace and stimulation and a sense that there were other people like me out there in this vast and empty land, has abandoned me. In its desperation to keep its listeners over the age of 50, it is gradually and surreptitiously replacing all its classical music programming with jazz and pop and folk. Tune into it at any time during the day and your chances are about 50/50 of hitting on some pretentious crooning female whose brain has been turned to Diet Pepsi by toxic doses of nostalgia.

It's exactly what you would find on any golden-oldies-easy-listening channel; this is pap, and pap is perfectly commercially viable, so there is no reason whatever for government subsidy of it. And, more importantly, the deliberate appeal to the elderly makes no sense. For years, there has been wailing and hand-wringing at the CBC about the absence of younger listeners. And then they program nothing but jazz. I have a theory that CBC Radio executives believe that young people are all obviously stupid, which means they can only enjoy what is light and non-challenging, and so they think yeah, jazz is suitably idiotic for young people . . . but no, I don't really believe that even CBC Radio executives are this cretinous. I don't know what they want, except to prevent me from listening.

They certainly don't want me listening, though, no sir: They are doing everything they can to turn my loathing of jazz into a full-fledged paranoid obsession. The more the CBC plays jazz, the more I despise it and plot against it. Not only do I hate jazz now, I hate jazz culture, I hate jazz people, I hate their phony deep cigarette voices, their obsolete slang, their faux-blackness, their nervous giggles. . . . I hate jazz's saccharine breeziness, its conservative affection for jaunty ditties -- the same jaunty ditties, endlessly strung out and embroidered and doo-de-doo-doo-doo improvised . . . my God, people say techno all sounds the same! Jazz means the Howard Johnson's piano bar, the lobby of Loblaws at Christmastime, it means electro-acoustic guitars and warbling organs and mellow marimbas and vibraphones, it means the smirky, bantering announcers of the seebeegoddamsee.

So why then am I going to spend the rest of this column praising the work of a jazz pianist? Because he doesn't seem like jazz to me.

I have been intrigued by Keith Jarrett ever since I heard his album of solo piano improvisations, Facing You, in the early seventies, and then became addicted, as so many young romantics do, to his amazing hour-long improvisation in Koln in 1975. The Koln Concert became one of the best-selling jazz records of all time. It is emotional in parts, to the point of sentimentality, but it is still an astounding document: It is a long, reflective piece of music -- not a song, not a "track," but a narrative, something like a symphony, which is being composed as it is being played. At a recent symposium on new classical music, Mark Kingwell referred to it as a record of a man thinking.

Jarrett the composer has always been on the verge of acceptance by the world of "legitimate" music (that is, the academic world of atonality and conceptualism), but he keeps screwing that transition up with his nostalgic preoccupation with jazz standards. As a musician, Jarrett has no problem competing on the stage of serious classical music: He has recorded the works of Bach, Mozart, Handel and several 20th-century composers. His performance of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues (on ECM) in particular shows his technical ability and seriousness: It's a lush, somewhat romantic interpretation, but technically perfect. After a long interval, Jarrett has finally released a new two-CD album of improvisational solo piano work: his first since 1995. It's called Radiance, also on ECM, and was recorded live at two concerts in Japan. It is fascinating, because it documents what I see as a struggle between the jazzman and the intellectual composer. Half of it sounds like contemporary classical music: It is tonal but not melodic, difficult and abstract. There are Asian and Arabic influences on these patterns, and a playful reference to a Chopin nocturne in one piece. It could be argued that this resistance to melody comes from the influence of the noisy "free jazz" of the 1960s, but knowing Jarrett I'd say it comes more from the classical world. It could be late Shostakovich. The other half is jazz: It is mushy and predictable. It could be film music.

What is astounding about all of it is that it is completely improvised. Jarrett writes in his liner notes, "How we arrive at thoughts has a lot to do with what we aren't thinking beforehand, and I had in mind letting some of the music happen to me without sitting there deep in thought." I hope Jarrett's experiment here serves as a model for more composer/musicians in the academic "new music" idiom. Why not improvise more serious music -- not working from "standards" or other schmaltz, but from purely new ideas? This is what Jarrett does best -- and I wish he would give up on the jazz.

Of course, I have not heard a single minute from this important musical contribution played on any show on CBC Radio Two. It's too difficult for them.


Blogger JazzStudy said...

I think when people start off with something so absolute as "I hate ...", it seems like a easy way to get people to want to read what they wrote. So, an attention-getting mechanism?

Or, maybe it's supposed to be funny. But he doesn't really seem to know what he's talking about...

3:26 PM  
Blogger tim said...

I think it is funny, or amazing that in LA, you are writing about one of our toronto newspaper writers...kind of cool but too bad its him.

We actually have a really great jazz writer for the same paper named mark miller who has written many good books on Canadian jazz.

or if you are curious about canada you can check out:

tim posgate

7:49 PM  
Anonymous piano man lyric said...

Cheers, Joe M -

I found This guy hates jazz while searching for info on piano man lyric, as I'm doing a story on Amercan Jazz / Blues piano players for a British periodical.

Although "piano man lyric" and "This guy hates jazz" aren't a perfect fit for me, your post did get my attention and interest!

I'd appreciate if anyone here can post info on Clay Cotton and the "happy blues" piano music at (and other 20th century US blues / jazz piano players).

Thanks from the UK,

Reggie Matheson

6:29 PM  

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