Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Joyce Hatto Scandal and Jazz?

By now, you've probably heard about the big Joyce Hatto scandal in the world of classical piano recordings. If you haven't, Newsweek has a nice rundown of the tale. Basically, Hatto's record label (run by her husband) sold and marketed other commercially available recordings by other pianists (without any permission) as Hatto's. Some tracks got a little bit of EQ here and there, a boost to the low end, some were cleverly stitched together in the editing process, others were resampled, to speed up the performance, without changing the pitch.

All of this got me thinking about if anything like this has gone on in the jazz world, and how might it be dealt with. The thing about this that amazes me the most is that thee vaunted classical critics who praised Hatto's playing didn't notice that it was someone else earlier. It took Gracenote's CD ID technology, which determines the names of your songs in programs like iTunes by scanning the lengths of the tracks on the CD, to figure it out.

Perhaps some of it is due to the sheer volume of material the critics and classical aficionados listen to, or perhaps it's that they don't really listen all that much after all. If a jazz artist released a CD that was someone else's work, I think (or at least would hope) that most jazz critics would pick up on it, and say "haven't I heard this before." Again we all know the jazz and classical worlds are different, but still, is jazz immune from such a scandal. I can foresee a future where something like this does happen in jazz, but perhaps in a different way.

We've already seen Concord Records market "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" an album that contains not a single note of music from Count Basie (modern day Basie tracks were dubbed in to cover up Ray's original backup band). Supposedly a new project (also from producer Greg Field) is on the way that brings Ella Fitzgerald (back from the grave, or at least the vault) together with new tracks recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

These recordings are very profitable for the record companies and estates. Finding new "gems" from the vault by big names, who are dead, and thus not producing new content, is one of the only sure ways to make big money in today's music business. While there seems to be an almost inexhaustible supply of vault material, perhaps someday, might we see fake recordings marketed as the "long lost work of jazz great XYZ" but which are in actual fact, mere modern recreations of such.

Uncertainty of the provenance of jazz recordings is also nothing new. Jazz discographies are notoriously murky on many early sessions. Experts often try to discern if that really is Cootie Williams on that track or did so and so take his place that night, etc. Likewise, many jazz musicians have made their mark imitating the work of others, sometimes so closely it's hard to tell master from pupil. It is entirely conceivable that jazz could one day face a situation similar to the Joyce Hatto case. Let's hope it doesn't come to that though. And if it does happen, let's hope jazz listeners are more astute than their classical peers.

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Blogger Marshall said...

Your analysis is not accurate in your comparison of the Joyce Hatto scandal and the Count Basie Orchestra. The Count Basie Orchestra today is a vital, active orchestra, which lives on with the blessings of Mr. Basie, with his original book, with original members still in the band who were chosen by Mr. Basie, led by 52 year veteran of the orchestra, Bill Hughes. The band tours at least 6 months out of the year, has continued to record under the name of The Count Basie Orchestra since Mr. Basie's passing in 1984, and has won grammys with these recordings.

For you to state that music was dubbed onto the recording, and not a note was played by Basie implies that the music was not live and not by the current, and one and only Count Basie Orchestra, and somehow seems to imply and denigrate the music put forth by the orchestra.

On the other hand, Joyce Hatto did not play any notes on her recordings,and it was plagiarism.

I would really appreciate if you would correct your inaccurate analogy.

Marshall McDonald
Lead Alto Saxophone
The Count Basie Orchestra

4:01 PM  
Blogger Joe M said...

Marshall, thank you for your comments. I have no problem with the Count Basie Orchestra continuing on Mr. Basie's legacy, in fact I've been playing the new Live in Japan CD on the air, in addition to heavy airplay for the Ray Charles/Count Basie Orchestra record on our station. I don't have a problem with the music itself.

My issue with the recording in question is the way it has been marketed by Concord, and the title of the album. "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" is less accurate than "Ray Sings, The Count Basie Orchestra Swings". I've instructed our on air staff to announce the album as Ray Charles with the Count Basie Orchestra, not Ray Charles and Count Basie, as the title might lead some to believe.

I've spoken with listeners who were upset after buying the CD that it wasn't quite what they thought it was. They thought they were buying a CD which featured Ray Charles and Bill Basie from Red Bank, NJ, and that's not what it is. They felt mislead, and I'm very much against misleading listeners.

Also, you may have misread my comments, as I didn't intend to compare the Charles/Basie Orchestra album to the Hatto scandal directly. Rather, I see albums like this one as a trend that ONE DAY may lead us to that point. The same kind technology that allows The Count Basie Orchestra to collaborate with a deceased artist, and for that record to be marketed to make consumers think that Mr. Basie was a part of this collaboration, could eventually lead us down that path.

Keep up the good work Marshall. Your music is being heard and is keeping Basie's legacy alive. We may disagree on how it's promoted, but the music is what really matters at the end of the day.

5:01 PM  

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