Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

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October 08, 2020

[Q] As per Bob and Carola, love to one day see your RS top 50. -- Daniel Joseph Weber [2020-09-29]

[A] I figured it wouldn't be too hard to compile one just by editing down my 1,000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life, but 50 albums (which is 1 per year since 1970, or 0.5 since recording got serious around 1920) proved way too tight a squeeze. You can look at my exercise here. There's a list at the end acknowledging some fairly glaring omissions

[Q] In its obituary for Stanley Crouch last week the NYTimes mentioned his essay in Jazz Times called "Putting the White Man in Charge" in which Crouch argued that white critics promote white musicans in order to "make themselves feel more comfortable about being in the role evaluating an art form from which they feel substantially alienated." I've been thinking about that and I am at a loss to think of a white critic of whom that could fairly be said. Nat Hentoff? Gary Giddins? Ira Gitler? Orrin Keepnews? That jazz is an art form invented by Black musicians is indisputable, as is the fact that it is an expression of the best of American aspiration. Certainly it is true that it has been appropriated and diluted from time to time, but I'm troubled by Crouch's apparent belief that the form can only be shared and appreciated by only certain people. Who was Crouch referring to? -- Bill Altreuter, Buffalo, New York [2020-09-20]

[A] Crouch only mentions two critics in his column. One is Tom Piazza, quoted out of context as ammunition for his broadside on Francis Davis. Because Piazza is white, he is seen as having secret insight and authority into the minds of white critics. The charge is patently ridiculous, as is his tangent in deriding all rap as akin to minstrel shows. Why he chose this particular tack isn't clear at first, until he gets around to Dave Douglas (who "is far from being a bad musician, but he also knows that he should keep as much distance as possible between himself and trumpet players like Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, and Nicholas Payton, to name three, any one of whom on any kind of material -- chordal, nonchordal, modal, free, whatever -- would turn him into a puddle on the bandstand"). Davis's book is a collection, Like Young. Most of the jazz essays are on black musicians, with the major exception a piece on Douglas.

The obvious name missing from Crouch's column is that of Wynton Marsalis, who was hugely hyped in the 1980s, and in the 1990s took control over Jazz at Lincoln Center, cornering the single largest conduit of money and patronage from the rich of New York to working jazz musicians. I don't know many details, but Wynton had a very narrow conception of jazz ("blues + swing = jazz"), and he attracted a coterie of critics (including Crouch) who followed him in writing everyone else out of the jazz tradition. Wynton's star began to fade around 2000, most conspicuously when Douglas started to edge him out in "best trumpet" polls. That seems the most likely explanation. I've heard most of their recordings, and have given them both mixed grades, but one thing I'm sure of is that Douglas has the superior chops.

I haven't read much by Crouch. My impression is that he can write with considerable insight when it suits him -- which is mostly when explicating artists he admires. On the other hand, his put downs can be crude, displaying prejudice, and hidden agendas. I did read his Jazz Times columns in early 2003, and agreed with JT's editor (in a column defending his firing) that "his columns were becoming tedious, generally alternating between vitriolic rants and celebrations of his buddies." (Quoted by Daniel King in the Village Voice, in a pro-Crouch recounting of the controversy: Hanging the Judge.)

One thing I know for certain about race and jazz criticism is that any attempt to generalize is bound to be stupid and offensive. One thing I am pretty sure of is that no one who cares enough about jazz to write about it is a problem racist. People my age grew up in a world where most prominent American jazz musicians were black, so racists either stayed away or got over it. Since 2000 (or maybe 1980) the demographics have flipped (even without counting Europe, which is less white, especially in London, than it used to be), but jazz is still the most thoroughly integrated music on earth, and its fans understand that.

By the way, Ethan Iverson recently republished his 2007 Interview with Stanley Crouch, which among other things rehashes the Jazz Times column.

[Q] Is Buck 65's Talkin' Honky Blues not too wordy to be an A+? I think every cut on there is well-written and thematically it's very cohesive, but isn't it a bit of a drag to listen to it front to back? -- David [2020-09-18]

[A] Well, I did give it an A+, something I don't do lightly, and listed it as my top record for 2003, so no. I've never claimed to be much good at deciphering let alone deeply understanding lyrics, so words rarely count for much in my ratings, but this is the rare case where the words always delight me. And sure, so do the beats.