Comments: "Stan"

I like some of Eminem's stuff. He's definitely talented.

This guy is much better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1llNYAlYrc&feature=related

Posted by Alaya at July 27, 2008 04:35 PM

Definitely. Thanks, Alaya.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 27, 2008 05:06 PM

Bernard; I usually agree with your comments, however, I must disagree with your observation that Benny Goodman was a classic rip-off artist. Benny was a very quirky cat, but, he could really play. He connected with many black musicians besides Charlie Christian,e.g. Teddy Wilson & Lionel Hampton were members of his band before Charlie Christian. His work with small groups was outstanding and not at all imitative.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 27, 2008 06:24 PM

Bob: Let me clarify what I think. Benny Goodman is one of my heroes. I've never heard anyone sound so great on the clarinet. He could do it all (classic/jazz) and, indeed, unlike many white band leaders, he openly welcomed black musicians. Like Bix, Mulligan, Getz, etc, he is unquestionably of the white greats.

I used the word rip-off because in the end his greatness is built entirely on the genius of black musicians. Not on his own. His own creative output was rather limited. In fact I cannot think of anything he's done that belongs in that Niagara Falls of creativity that is 20c jazz music.

I wish I had the time to upload recordings I have of Charlie Christian playing with Goodman (Charlie's harmonies were about 10 years ahead of Benny's) and then the same Christian playing with his fellow beboppers. The contrast is stunning. His nightly trips to Harlem (mostly Minton's Playhouse) were a journey through a whole decade of jazz music. From gigging in Goodman's band to stretching with Clarke, Monk, etc, is the difference between Mozart and Stravinsky. Except it's all done in the same night!

What I am saying is that Goodman was a great instrumentalist, an accomplished musician, a man of taste and wonderful openness. But he was never capable of pushing the envelope. He played no part in the bebop revolution or for that matter in any of the epochal innovations of 20th c jazz.

But I do have the highest respect for the man.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 27, 2008 07:14 PM

Bernard: There is no need to upload Charlie Christian's playing for my benefit. I agree completely that he is, in the end, one of the true geniuses of Jazz and that Benny is not in the same league- but, very few are. But, Benny did set a standard for jazz clarinet and deserves better tnan to be classed as a rip-off artist, no matter how you define that term. Having said that, I always preferred PeeWee Russell.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 27, 2008 07:45 PM

Bob: I stand by the word rip-off because the looting of black music by the white music industry is one of the most revolting episodes of American capitalism. I am not pinning all the blame on individuals like Elvis or Goodman. It was a whole system, where even Ellington would have to share the authorship of his music with an operator like Irving Mills. But they're the visible part of the iceberg and they benefited immensively from that ripoff.

It's the Brits who began to return the favor, with the Stones, Clapton acknowledging their debt to Muddy Waters ("Rolling Stone" comes from a Muddy tune) and Howlin' Wolf. Speaking of Muddy Waters, he had to work as a house painter to make a living: one of the greatest names in American music.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 27, 2008 09:40 PM

Hmm, there has always been this weird racial aspect of Jazz. When Miles Davis hired a white pianist some of the others in the group grumbled about it to which Davis replied he didn’t care if the guy was green as long as he could play.

While Benny Goodman was a swing musician not a be-bop musician I don’t believe that is of much importance. Louis Armstrong who was around during the be-bop revolution never really liked Parker or so I have heard yet that did not lessen the fact that Armstrong was a genius in his own right even if he never embraced be-bop in his playing.

No one was more ripped off, musically speaking, than Charlie Parker who changed the way Jazz is played not only for sax players but for all Jazz musicians. For example before the advent of be-bop the drummer kept time with the bass pedal but this was impractical for the faster time signatures of be-bop and the function of keeping time was moved to the cymbals.

In the big band era big bands were essentially dance bands but again be-bop changed all that. The be bop revolution moved Jazz from dance band popular music status to serious listening music and today modern big bands have embraced this and you can no longer say they are swing bands or dance bands.

It is said that one of the reasons Jazz evolved is that black musicians were kept from playing in white orchestras and classical formats which is likely true, a sad statement of the racist nature of the U.S.

I’m not quite sure of what you are trying to say here, that Goodman ripped off blacks musically or that the music industry ripped off blacks monetarily by promoting white bands. If a black composer became famous for writing symphonic music would that composer be accused of ripping off white music? For myself I agree with Miles Davis that skin color should not matter when it comes to music. All Jazz musicians were influenced by other players for if they were not inspired by what they heard why would they even become interested in playing music?

Posted by Rob Payne at July 27, 2008 11:31 PM

>> weird racial aspect to jazz.

Well, jazz is black music. The fact that some whites are good at it does not make it any less black. Maybe I can learn Japanese music and become really good at it. Unless I innovate in a major way it won't become French/American music or Chazellian music. It'll still be Japanese music.

Truth is, jazz music is as black as it gets in the sense that nonblack contribution is secondary at best. (I leave aside the fact that jazz borrowed harmonically from classical music and melodically from Broadway music.) You could remove all white input into jazz, and the loss would be relatively minor: you'd still have the most original art form ever produced in America.

Now about being ripped off. The term refers to economics. The issue is that whites of lesser talent got all the dough by recycling great ideas of people who lived in shacks and had to enter the hotels where they performed through the kitchen door. Ellington was refused a hair cut in the hotel where he was to perform. Meanwhile Goodman, with one tenth the talent, performed at Carnegie-Hall. (Yes he was a good guy and he brought along Hampton, Wilson, etc.)

To answer your question, if a black man played a variant of Beethoven's 7th in 1820 and made millions off of it while Ludwig was in a homeless shelter, then yes I would say that the black man ripped off Beethoven. That's exactly what happened in jazz.

Miles is a complex case. Like Hendrix, he "made" it in the white world. But by then times had changed.

But to go back to bebop (for which Miles's contribution was negligible), the revolution had a sociological origin. Why would black players slave over new scales, harmonies, and rhythms? To create a new language that set them apart from white music. Virtually the entire history of jazz can be understood as a black flight from white music. Blacks invented big band and swing. And as soon as whites mastered it (Goodman), they fled away from it by inventing bebop. It was an endless pursuit of a secret code that no white, hopefully, could decipher. So the racial aspect of jazz is not incidental, it is a defining trait. Same with the language, the slang. Bebop had its own slang. I have recordings of Bird and Powell bantering and unless you have a dictionary you can't understand what they're talking about. Just like rap today. The fact that rap vocabulary is so different is integral to the genre. The whole music itself is an effort to create an identity different from the surroundings as a protective mechanism.

Of course, being great, jazz became de facto universal. But it was always, by design, meant as an identity marker, even sometimes a secret code.

Miles could play the game, but in fact deep inside he hurt greatly. He hated audiences. He'd often turn his back on white audiences, which in fact he despised. He burned with rage whenever someone failed to pay their respect to Bird (his mentor, his idol, and the drug junkie Miles would drag to his apartment after he'd collapsed).

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2008 12:40 AM

”But to go back to bebop (for which Miles's contribution was negligible), the revolution had a sociological origin. Why would black players slave over new scales, harmonies, and rhythms? To create a new language that set them apart from white music. Virtually the entire history of jazz can be understood as a black flight from white music. Blacks invented big band and swing. And as soon as whites mastered it (Goodman), they fled away from it by inventing bebop.”

Miles was a very young musician at the time of the be-bop revolution yet Parker obviously saw something in Miles that he liked. Miles also helped launch the careers of Coltrane and Cannonball in which I feel was the best small group ever. I don’t agree at all with your take on why be-bop came about. Parker and Dizzy were a natural outgrowth of swing and from what I have read they were trying to develop something that would separate them from the old school of swing musicians not just whites in particular. Jazz has progressed from a very simple form of music to a very complex music throughout its entire history and I am not all sure that it was due to a desire to run from white music rather it was the natural creative growth of a new type of music. I read a biography of Miles Davis and there was nothing said about him hating white audiences.

I simply don’t agree with your take that white musicians just ripped off black musicians as there is such a thing as a love of music for the sake of music and if someone desires to play Jazz because they love the music that does not make them rip-offs. Jazz is played around the world with great players from Japan to Europe to even the Philippines. I saw a group from the Philippines at Yoshi’s in Oakland, Ca and they were great.

What I said was…

“If a black composer became famous for writing symphonic music would that composer be accused of ripping off white music?” I did not say that if a black musician purposefully plagiarized Beethoven which are two different things entirely.

I would just add that there are what I feel to be misconceptions about Jazz one being that it is a secret code, and two that it cannot be taught. What defines Jazz are stylistic aspects, the strong beats are on two and four in common time as opposed to the strong beats on one and three in classical and rock music just for example. Jazz is music and music is not just an art form but also a language. You could bring Jazz musicians together from different parts of the world and even if they didn’t speak the same language they could still play Jazz together because they all speak that language.

I am not trying to take anything away from the fact that Jazz is as you say essentially black music nor do I disagree with you that whites benefited from it while many more talented blacks did not, that was and is the reality of the racist nation this is, sadly. But sometimes it seems to me that there is more mutual respect and understanding between Jazz musicians of different races then Jazz fans especially those who use race as a measure of how good a music or musician is.

Posted by Rob Payne at July 28, 2008 02:18 AM

On the universality of jazz, on the fact that everyone can appreciate it, and contribute to it, and teach it, and learn it, agreed.

Re. the mutual respect among musicians, that too is universal. I love the company of musicians precisely because of their respect for something very beautiful. (The kind of sublime beauty that outside music I find only in poetry and mathematics in my case.)

I also do think that a Martian could land on earth and learn about jazz without its history and grow a taste for the genre. The history is not necessary. But if one wants to understand why jazz evolved the way it did, then the first thing to do is to "get" the racial context.

I believe there is nearly a consensus among jazz scholars and critics (eg, Gitler, Hentoff, Crouch, Schuller, Feather) that bebop was motivated primarily by the need to create a black identity that would act as an expressive device, a buffer zone, and a protective shield. Wynton Marsalis engaged in a virulent argument with (I am blanking out) precisely on that subject. These are all theories and speculations. One is perfectly entitled to disagree. But I think the sociological/ethnographic evidence is very strong.

Same is happening in French hip hop: even more so than the US variety. French vocabulary is being entirely reshaped to fit the needs of identity marking.

I somewhat disagree about bebop being a natural evolution from swing. The huge break was not just harmonic, as too many people wrongly assume, but rhythmic. In swing, the 16th notes moved to the hi-hat and the ride and only the snare does the accents. In bebop, the bass drum, too, gets to do the accents. (Kenny Clarke's famous "bombs") the 2-4 beat moves to the hi-hat and the ride gets the 16th patterns.
And later in postbop, Elvin Jones does accents on the hi-hat, too. In other words, bop (almost) completely liberated the drumset from a timekeeping device. It went back to the polyrhythmic roots of the blues (in Western Africa). There is not a trace of polyrhythm in swing (but ironically there's in Delta blues!)

Miles indeed launched everyone's career. He was the Dr Dre of his time. But he was a very difficult guy. He had a reputation for playing while turning his back on white audiences. Of course, Robert Johnson did the same: but that's because he was afraid people would steal his licks. That fear, already.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2008 11:45 AM

Apropos of nothing except that it's about white rappers, my favorite moment in the history of music was when 3rd Bass put out a dis track against the Beastie Boys in response to "Licensed to Ill" on the grounds that it was a disrespectful theft of black culture. The Beasties had already come to that same conclusion, though, and they put out "Paul's Boutique" to atone, so 3rd Bass looked like idiots for dissing them.

Actually, I wish the Beasties WOULD steal more from black artists. Like if they could steal the ability to rap, say.

Posted by gil mann at July 28, 2008 01:44 PM

Apropos of nothing except that it's about white rappers, my favorite moment in the history of music was when 3rd Bass put out a dis track against the Beastie Boys in response to "Licensed to Ill" on the grounds that it was a disrespectful theft of black culture. The Beasties had already come to that same conclusion, though, and they put out "Paul's Boutique" to atone, so 3rd Bass looked like idiots for dissing them.

Actually, I wish the Beasties WOULD steal more from black artists. Like, say, the ability to rap.

Posted by gil mann at July 28, 2008 01:46 PM

But I repeat myself.

Posted by gil mann at July 28, 2008 01:48 PM

gil: last line cracked me up. Reminded me of a comment from George Best (UK soccer legend) about David Beckham. "Has no left foot; not much of a right one either; can't handle the ball when it's moving; poor running skills; but except for that yes he's the best player in the world."

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2008 02:15 PM

Bernard: When I wrote to bring up a minor quibble concerning you characterization of B. Goodman as a rip-off artist, I never imagined that would give rise to the discussion which has ensued. Yet, that has caused me to take a second look at my objections to you and I have concluded that in a very real sense you are correct. Goodman's fame as a big band leader was based primarily on the arrangements written by Fletcher Henderson - so in that sense he was a rip-off artist.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 28, 2008 04:04 PM

Bernard: When I wrote to bring up a minor quibble concerning you characterization of B. Goodman as a rip-off artist, I never imagined that would give rise to the discussion which has ensued. Yet, that has caused me to take a second look at my objections to you and I have concluded that in a very real sense you are correct. Goodman's fame as a big band leader was based primarily on the arrangements written by Fletcher Henderson - so in that sense he was a rip-off artist.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 28, 2008 04:04 PM

Bernard: When I wrote to bring up a minor quibble concerning you characterization of B. Goodman as a rip-off artist, I never imagined that would give rise to the discussion which has ensued. Yet, that has caused me to take a second look at my objections to you and I have concluded that in a very real sense you are correct. Goodman's fame as a big band leader was based primarily on the arrangements written by Fletcher Henderson - so in that sense he was a rip-off artist.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 28, 2008 04:05 PM

Aha! Not just me thwarted by the comment gremlins, I see.

Yeah, y'know, I hate to say that 'cause, I mean, they're the Beastie Boys; they've treated their chosen genre with more respect than pretty much anyone in our out of it. But c'mon, they're still on the "my name is (name) and I'm here to say..." tip, and you'd think that, doing it for a living all these years, they'd acquire a modicum of flow just through immersion.

I shouldn't complain. I wish more hip-hop erred on the side of being too old school. Plus, if the Beasties were good with internal rhyme schemes and all that jazz, they probably wouldn't compensate with weird fusion shit like "Sabotage," so I guess it's a net plus.

Not a net plus: Looking exactly like Adam Yauch except short and doughy.

Posted by gil mann at July 28, 2008 04:26 PM

Goodman's fame as a big band leader was based primarily on the arrangements written by Fletcher Henderson - so in that sense he was a rip-off artist.

Actually Goodman purchased the music from Henderson so to say Goodman ripped Henderson off is not logical. If Goodman had plagiarized the music then you could say he ripped Henderson off. Purchasing something does not make you a rip-off artist.


Posted by Rob Payne at July 28, 2008 11:59 PM

I am really enjoying this conversation. Bernard, Rob, you guys should start a jazz group blog. I know I'd read it regularly. Some friends of mine and I have started one on The Beatles and it is great fun.

The practice of assigning genres of art to one race or another makes me uneasy; not because I think one can (or should) ignore the "blackness" of jazz or blues, but because I think we kid ourselves if we do not sense this as sketchy territory. I have an older relative that insists Jews are naturally good with money. Even though "it's a compliment," it seems too close to the kind of thinking that caused the trouble in the first place. So as fascinating as this discussion is, I try not to go there myself.

Speaking of The Beatles, one mustn't forget the role they played in popularizing black music; without The Beatles to clear the way, it's possible that The Stones would've been John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. It was The Beatles' success blending black and white sounds that created an insatiable hunger for British rock bands in the States, and this allowed blues-loving groups like The Stones (and people like Clapton, Beck, and Page) to grow into something more than fanboys worshipping at the altar of Chess.

The Beatles constantly acknowledged their debt to black r'n'b, and their early stage shows are as much Ray Charles and Little Richard as they are Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. But they were no more immune to the "authenticity" myth than the rest of us; I recall reading a quote from Lennon saying how he always felt sheepish doing "black" tunes in their early sets because "they [black musicians] could do it so much better." The instant karma is that Michael Jackson owns 50% of his Beatles catalog. :-)

In the end the music's above all this, thank God. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is incomparable, the closest thing to a mass orgasm American pop culture has ever experienced; still, I listened to Al Green's version a month ago and fell in love all over again. To quote Lennon again: "Music belongs to everyone. It's only the publishers that think they own it."

Posted by Mike of Angle at July 29, 2008 01:03 AM

This guy is pretty good too, better than Eminem, in my opinion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t5l31IVkC4

Posted by Pepito at July 29, 2008 06:48 AM

The practice of assigning genres of art to one race or another makes me uneasy; not because I think one can (or should) ignore the "blackness" of jazz or blues, but because I think we kid ourselves if we do not sense this as sketchy territory. I have an older relative that insists Jews are naturally good with money. Even though "it's a compliment," it seems too close to the kind of thinking that caused the trouble in the first place.

I believe that is exactly right. Also the problem with statements like Jews are naturally good with money is that it is racial stereotyping no matter how well meant. Mark Twain would have probably called it a “corn pone” opinion. His definition of that was that there were two kinds of opinions – opinions that people develop from experience (rare) and corn pone opinions, opinions that we have heard and then repeat without thinking (not so rare).

I liked the Lennon quote about Music belonging to everyone. I can still recall seeing the Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show which was pretty awesome. The Beatles and later on many other rock groups were what got me interested in music in the first place so in a way we all owe each other.

Many moons ago when I was a music performance major in college I was climbing up the steps of a steep hill hauling my bari sax for a night of practice in the practice rooms when I met Eddie Jefferson a Jazz singer coming down the other way who was there to perform as a guest artist. I said hi and was a bit nervous about meeting a real pro up close so to speak but he was such a friendly guy he put me at ease and we ended up having a conversation about Charlie Parker. That was something I will always remember fondly. It is also the kind of chance happening that is inspirational.

I’m glad you enjoy the conversations with Bernard as I do though sometimes I fear I just sound like a blow-hard (no pun intended).

Posted by Rob Payne at July 29, 2008 10:24 AM

Well, jazz is black music. The fact that some whites are good at it does not make it any less black. Maybe I can learn Japanese music and become really good at it. Unless I innovate in a major way it won't become French/American music or Chazellian music. It'll still be Japanese music.

I found this quite funny, as I'm actually living in Japan right now, learning from Japanese jazz musicians. My closest gaijin friend is a British jazz clarinetist who's decided to stay here for the long haul because of the natural kinship he feels with Gagaku, traditional Japanese court music. Which, of course, doesn't really say anything about the point you're making, but I think it's kind of interesting.

I'm really enjoying it whenever you guys talk about jazz. I've never really been attracted to the thought of following jazz blogs or anything like that. I guess here I'm somehow comforted by the fact that everybody seems to have other "more important" concerns but are still so passionate and knowledgeable about music. So I'll second that emotion-- if some of you actually started a jazz blog, I for one would be a regular reader/commenter.

Posted by Quin at July 29, 2008 12:43 PM

Rob Payne: I take your point about Benny Goodman having bought Fletcher Henderson's arrangements. However, to my knowledge,, while he gathered much fame and fortune Benny never gave him much recognition. On your dispute with Bernard about whether jazz is a black art form, I tend to side with you. In my opinion Bill Evans is major figure
in jazz piano, as is Art Pepper on alto saxophone.
Neither of those cats is derivative in their playing and have had a profound & lasting effect.

Posted by Bob Della Valle at July 29, 2008 04:27 PM

Bob Della Valle,

I don’t dispute that Jazz was invented by blacks. I am a musician not a music historian nor am I music critic except in my own personal tastes in music and the people that inspired me to play music are both black musicians and white musicians. The only thing I really object to is when people use race as criteria for judging the quality of a musician. I am not the defender of Benny Goodman and I agree with Bernard that there is a lot of unfairness in the fact that blacks invented Jazz but did not profit from it as much as some white bands did during the hey-day of Jazz. I see that as a sad statement on the racial nature of the U.S. more than anything else.

Both Bill Evans and Art Pepper are among my favorite musicians. Both had a unique style of playing and Art Pepper was playing some cutting edge music right up to the time of his death. Lee Konitz also comes to mind for me as someone who developed a very original style which transcended the Be-bop idiom. Having said that I believe that the most influential players have been black and the true paradigms in Jazz regarding people who influenced the direction of Jazz the most were Armstrong, Parker, and Coltrane. I cannot speak for everyone but I would hazard a guess to say that most Jazz musicians today give credit where credit is due. Tenor players like Brecker and Liebman have always credited Coltrane as one of their main inspirations. And until Brecker died in my humble opinion he was the best Jazz tenor sax player of the day. I base that opinion on his ability to play not the color of his skin.

My viewpoints are no doubt affected by my own experience in performing music. When you go to tryout for a band you had better be able to play because that is all band leaders care about really and the fact is that the many fine musicians today come in all colors shapes and sizes but the bottom line is your playing ability. That’s the way it is. Players don’t sit around and mull over skin color or past injustices real and imagined they just want to play music.

Posted by Rob Payne at July 30, 2008 12:54 AM