Forumesque 8

Forumesque 8 is an opportunity to weigh in on recent posts and anything in the contents.    Factual corrections are welcomed;  general questions are fine too.   The comments automatically close after a week. 

I'm on tour in Europe, so don't be worried if it takes up to a day for your contribution to be posted. 

UPDATE:  Comments now running to two three pages.


« previous | Main | next »


Hi Ethan:

I just wanted to drop a line to let you know how much I enjoy and admire "Do The Math." The essays, audio clips,transcriptions,
articles and interviews are very interesting, informative,insightful and at times fucking funny! Both on the part of the interviewer and interviewee. Is that a word? Anyway, I LOVED the maj 7#5s described as "girlfriend chords" - hilarious and so true!!

Just my $.02, but I believe we are all racist to a certain extent(it is only a question of degree),there is certainly no such thing as reverse racism. I also believe it is horribly naive to think it will ever be totally eradicated.There simply is no way to make human beings get along with each other - regardless of color or creed or lack thereof.

Hope your tour is fun and successful...

Ethan, thanks for the Bud Powell retrospective, it's fantastic. I went out and bought "inner fires" and "our man in paris" after reading, and have enjoyed every minute.

bud wrote some great tunes, my personal favorite bud tunes have always been "audrey" and "celia".

I'm actually curious about your transcribing, and how you learn solos in general. do you generally learn to play solos up to speed? do you continue to practice them? certain solos like lady be good I'll always remember, but I forget a lot of what I've transcribed until I hear it and take the time to work it up again.

thanks again for your writing and playing, it's a wonderful resource.

1) Great Mickey Roker interview - I immediately picked up the records you played him (I already had the Thad Jones stuff), as well as the Sonny "There WIll Never Be" disc, which I think you've mentioned on here before...? Anyway, great.

2) Thanks for being a voice of balanced sanity in this sandstorm of Jobs-deification we've found ourselves in the middle of. I've passed on both of your posts on the subject multiple times.

3) Thanks for sending me to Jim's Journal, a treasured new discovery.

Thanks for everything as always,
Jon Wertheim

Hi Ethan! I haven't had much time lately to check in on DTM so I won't be weighing in on any issues but i do want to just say that I am a huge fan of your playing and writing. You have inspired me to study piano and pursue jazz, so thank you for that!

I have seen The Bad Plus play a couple times and you guys are always phenomenal. One song that's always a highlight for me (and the crowd) is "Who's He?". I was wondering why this song hasn't made an album yet. I know you have to pick and choose what makes the final cut, but i've this song has been played for quite a while now and people love it. Another youtube favourite of mine was "Traditional Yet Progressive" before it got taken down. I guess if anything it's awesome to know how much great material you guys have that hasn't been used yet. Perhaps on the next album?

Anyways, enough fan rambling from me. Thank you for all the great music, and pass along my thanks to Reid and Dave (my favourite drummer btw).

This is older, but I just saw it: "Indeed, as far as I know, all of Byrne’s songs from any period of his career stay in one key."
I'm not even very familiar with the oeuvre, but check out "And She Was," or "Wild Wild Life": even just from memory, I'm pretty sure those change key, and I'd bet there are numerous other examples, though I'm not going to try to chase them down right now. I guess it's kind of a minor point.

There's always something I forget to put in my essays the first time. I just added the following update to "From the Ground Up":

UPDATE: To make the music kind of music I’m talking about a little clearer, here’s a partial, written-in-30-seconds list of black innovators who’s most hair-raising concepts are not accepted by “The Ray Brown Trios”: Charles Mingus, Mal Waldron, Richard Davis, Ornette Coleman, Ed Blackwell, Billy Hart, Jimmy Garrison, Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill, Alice Coltrane, Jaki Byard, Jeff Watts, Ralph Peterson. There's not any of the fire of Kenny Kirkland or the rigor of Marcus Roberts, and of course all three members of the Bandwagon are not even on their radar. Honestly, there’s not even any Thelonious Monk or McCoy Tyner in “The Ray Brown Trios” -- whatever surreal, motivic or modal material they use is rounded off and gentle.


@Mark: Thanks. My favorite kind of racism is the English vs. the French.

@paul: I use Amazing Slow Downer to transcribe. Honestly my ears are not that good. I haven't learned any of those Powell solos. I can kind of play the choruses on "Celia" and "Cherokee." I've been working on them on and off for about five years.

@Jon: Thanks!

@Jesse: we tried to get a good take of "Who's He?" for NEVER STOP but I vetoed it. It's sounding pretty good on this tour, though, so maybe on the next one. "Traditional Yet Progressive" is not going to come back (I don't think, you never know I guess)

livex: I've been waiting for someone to correct me! All I know are a few favorite songs, so I'll check 'em out.

Hi Ethan

Still the gold standard for musician's blogs - the Powell article was outstanding as was the Roker interview. Hope you manage to interview more of these legends and ask them the kinds of questions that you do - these interviews are an invaluable jazz tradition resource. Thanks for all the great writing and insights


Mr. Iverson, nothing to add except that I am a complete newcomer to jazz and your writing is wonderfully informative and interesting. Thanks.

@Ronan: Thanks, I'm about to post an interview with Jim McNeely and knew what I didn't need to cover since you already did.

@Hilary: Good luck making sense of it all!!!

@everybody else: I opened up the forum specifically to be challenged on the "institutional racism" post. I don't think I have all the answers, that was written at top speed, looking it over now I have some regrets. In other words, go ahead and challenge me, there is no escalation planned...

There was a similar discussion of "institutional racism" in reference to Ben Ratliff between me and Alex Rodriguez after the last Winter Jazz Fest. As usual, JALC was involved.

Personally, I don't necessarily want to challenge you. Every statement like yours will have its flaws, but yours hits the nail pretty much on the head.

Here's Alex's post, from 1/7/11:

And here's mine, which was seconded on A Blog Supreme by Patrick Jarenwattananon:

I'd forgotten about this and the parallels to your post until just now. Hope it strikes you the same way...


Ethan: thanks so much for maintaining this amazing blog! I'm an avid follower.

I wanted to let you know about a project I help run called Half Speed Jazz - It's a curated collection of classic jazz solos played back at half speed. We post new solos every Monday and are always seeking new suggestions.

DTM has been a great source for learning about great solos. We've included a couple that you've featured such as the amazing Benny Carter solo on "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me," and Oscar Pettiford's solo on "The Man I Love" that Charlie Haden mentioned in his interview with you. Let me know what you think of the project. Looking forward to the future of DTM!

Hi Ethan,
Two things:
Are you comfortable giving a few examples of any Ray Brown trios in the past 25 years or so?
Also, could you attempt to do an interview with Nicholas Payton? You both have very interesting insights about the current Jazz climate.

I agree with a lot of what you had to say, and after talking it over with a friend last night there's a lot that bothers me about Payton and friends' charges of racism.

First, calling someone, especially someone in media, a racist is a dangerous thing. If the furor gets loud enough the stain of that accusation could follow Ratliff for a long time. In some circles, I would say the damage is already done. This would be one thing if Ratliff had shown, over a course of many articles/reviews/etc., that he favored non-black jazz musicians or gave undue attention to whites, but as far as I can tell that isn't the case, or the source of the complaint.

Which leads me to my next point: How many black artists need to be featured in every article about jazz for it to not be racist? Is it a minimum of one? Maybe 50%? This idea is racist at its core. It is black musicians/journalists/fans saying they will tolerate a certain amount of (token?) white participation in jazz so long as it remains a predominantly black art form. I'm sorry, but that bridge was crossed long ago.

Jazz is now a multi-cultural music. Some good bands are all white. Some good bands are all black. Some good bands are mixed. And sometimes, a profile of four up-and-coming pianists will feature one white man, one white woman and two latino men. How is this racist?

I'm sure I couldn't possibly keep up with Nick Payton's "challenges" to your post on Twitter, so I'll just say why I (mostly) liked the post, with a couple of quibbles:

• You acknowledge the drastic and recent change in the entire culture of jazz, from a music that was largely an extension of a blues tradition to a music that is largely a refutation of a blues tradition. Nick Payton spends a lot of his time looking for someone to blame for that, and that's his right, but it's fascinating (and rare) simply to note that it's happened. In 1973 the Down Beat critics could give Album-of-the-Year honours to Sonny Stitt's Constellation, as un-"innovative" an album as you could ever imagine, but a fucking barn-burner. Barely a decade ago Gary Giddins was singing the praises of John Lewis's Evolution.

But then two things happened:
• All of those guys died.
• The generations that followed have been, in many cases, not particularly interested in extending that set of cultural references; and in a lot of other cases, not very good at extending those cultural references. The first group is what Nick Payton likes to call "white musicians," a sometimes-accurate label; the second is what you call "the Ray Brown Trios."

• I think "the Ray Brown Trios" is a hilarious tag, but you picked it to be vague, to avoid hurting the guilty, and you're paying a modest price for that. Nate Chinen pointed out that Keezer's white and Karriem Riggins was "a future hip-hop producer," as though that constitutes some kind of rebuttal. I took you to be referring to Benny Green, Eric Alexander, Christian McBride (whose newish small band might as well be called Don't Worry, We Won't Play Anything Scary), maybe Anthony Wonsey... the critique isn't much about race, it's about stylistic conservatism.

• So the "blame" for the death of jazz, as the term was understood from maybe 1940 to 2000, can be divided among (1) Death itself, which can be hard to beat (2) musicians who've turned their backs on aspects of the tradition (but are perfectly happy with what they've found and used instead) (3) musicians who thought they were preserving a tradition but were often just dipping it in formaldehyde.

I'm with you through all that. My biggest quibble arises from your use of "innovation" as the watchword of the Fabian Almazans and other jazz musicians of today. I simply think it's an unfortunate choice of term. It resurrects the old early-90s "tradition vs. innovation" battles, which were tiresome; it's handed around too cheaply, so that anyone with a slightly quirky style can claim to be an Innovator, a label that surely should be more exclusive than that; and it suggests that if I don't like the latest random quirky stylist, I must be Against Innovation. Nah, I just think a lot of this stuff is lame.

It's very hard to find jazz that seems shocking, or profoundly challenging to most listeners' assumptions about What Music Should Be -- innovative, in other words. It's pretty easy to find music that seems bloodless and uninteresting. Come to think of it, that's often true whether the music in question thinks it's swinging or knows it isn't.

I've given up on a lot of today's jazz, without regret, though I wish every musician well. If they can find an audience more forgiving than me, good for them. But a useful precondition to talking in good faith about today's jazz is an acknowledgement that it's changed, in fundamental ways, since the days when, say, Bradley's was open.

@everybody: thanks for the comments. Lot of good points here, but it's late so I'm not going to respond to each one, except:

@Paul Wells: nice response. We all miss Bradleys! However I think I did say the conservatives were white, too. But I worry about the success of the black musicians more, I guess because I do really believe jazz is their birthright. And this is still a racist country...

Um, Benny Green and Geoff Keezer can play a lot more virtuoso jazz piano than I ever will, seeing their names just made me a little queasy. I do really try to avoid discussing my contemporaries...everyone, go to a Keezer or Green gig soon! (Mike, I just can't give any examples of "THE RAY BROWN TRIOS.")

Part of my problem with Ray Brown is that album SOMETHING FOR LESTER. My impression is that Ray took the date over and made it less than it should have been, considering that it was with Cedar and Elvin.

I also have no fucking problem with the great Gene Harris! But it's true, I prefer The Three Sounds to those Concord discs with Ray.

I hate amending an already windy comment, but I am a huge Keezer fan, and only mentioned him because I thought "Keezer's white" was maybe not the most thoughtful possible response from Chinen.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm pretty sure that when you mention "the Ray Brown Trios," you're not literally referring to specific Ray Brown Trios, but to a certain attitude which can pop up anywhere.

Dear Ethan,
Brahms would have loved your Hamburg Concerto! The new pieces were again a big step for mankind. I'm looking forward to the new CD and even more to seeing you again in Europe. Try De Werf in Brugge and take your camera! Love to the 3. Lieva

Re: Jonathan Batiste, I think what you term "Harry Connick Jr.-type qualities" is that old New Orleans showmanship that's common to almost every musician I know there.

I don't know if it's that New Orleans is one of the few places where young jazz/brass band musicians can play to a receptive audience of lay people/regular folks (as opposed to "jazz fans"), or if it's because the musical heritage there is so linked to the tourist industry, but there's something there. It feels different and outside the binary of conservative modern jazz players vs avant garde innovators.

Hi Ethan

Fascinating 'State of the Jazz' article.
Although truly disturbing, it's also a real pleasure to read serious thoughts by serious folks who seriously care.
Some very fine points made by you, Payton, Mulgrew and mostly all others.
Regarding your response to Miller's 'Interview music' accusation: Are you guys (TBP) really in the “Doing something first” business merely for financial survival reasons? I find it unlikely, although that's what you seem to be implying.

And on another topic altogether - Scanning the NYC live Jazz huts for the last week of November (when I plan to visit the city from halfway around the world) I saw your name featured in the Cornelia Street Cafe schedule.
I'm most likely there anyway for the great rhythm section, but shamefully do not know a thing about the leader - Trumpeter John McNeil.
AMG has some info, and the man's own site has more, but your 2c (or more) is always valuable.
Also - how did this intriguing band come together?

addendum: the Talking Heads version of And She Was definitely changes key, but I found a YouTube of Byrne doing it solo where he changed the changes so that it doesn't change key, at least not as overtly (not talking about the standard secondary dominant thing) ... weird, as for me the key change is a really defining aspect of that song.

Thank you for the Ground Up post. You make many worthwhile distinctions that will hopefully be read carefully, instead of read into. You couldn't have much better expressed what too many jazz writers have either "Ray Brown'd" around or "Sandke'd" over : both approaches ridden with shallowness and insecurity, where you have been truthful and clear.
Likewise, I have to unabashedly disagree with the implication of Mark's racism comment. Sure, racism in some quantity is inevitable, as is mass manipulation by politicians and media; war; poverty. That doesn't mean we bow down to it or contribute to it!! Also, please recognize that you cannot be *genuinely* dedicated to truth, and be a racist. Historical and genetic facts do not permit it.

But here's the big question, for everyone, including the well-spoken Paul Wells: How did the genre "jazz" ever evolve to encompass all the music it has? Even if jazz had somehow ended in 1970, there would be a massive variety of music that this tradition claims, or that people who have made it have wanted to be a part of. It would seem an awfully stupid refutation of the history of jazz to become too rigid about it, or to fail to recognize that part of the name is just the bin that record shops put the records in. It doesn't intrinsically say much about jazz, which if it is a watchword for "freedom to make eclectic quasi-improvised instrumental music I believe in".....wouldn't be the worst thing, for christ's sake!

@Paul Wells: I'm not sure what Chinen comment you mean...but he and Ratliff are both so good at trying to walk in this minefield I'm not going to go look for it. Of course I don't mean that the real Ray Brown trios are the problem here, I thought that was clear. Ray always played great and died rich.

My favorite Keezer record (not that I know them all) is OTHER SPHERES -- never heard any music like that before...

@Lieva: Aw, thanks! The card and flowers were so lovely.

@Jordan: No doubt, NOLA is one of the few local scenes left.

@Ron: Of course we are extremely passionate about our music, and would do it for nothing. I just checked the post and see no real reference to making my music until the end: "My first commitment is to take whatever you love from wherever you can, mash it together and try to move it forward."

But the economic angle is never mentioned, and I thought I'd try to air it out. Again, the post was mostly aimed at young black musicians, who I worry are told to be insular by cranky older black musicians. Hey, maybe they aren't told that! I don't really know.

John McNeil is a post-modal trumpet player I met through Bill McHenry. He's a bit older and has some incredible authenticity in his sound. I never play his kind of repertoire, it's a fun challenge for me.

@livex: reminds me of the time I discovered Charlie Watts didn't play the broken-up beat on the record of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Live he plays the straight beat, which makes the song less powerful.

@faq: I must disagree with you here. As I said in the post, if conservative black (and white, but the power chairs are black) musicians decide to take the word jazz back from all the experimentalists, I think they have the right. The dues were just too heavy; the integrity of the greats too powerfully connected to black folklore.

Ethan, keep up the good work. Re: your update to "From the Ground Up": in the sentence with "innovators who’s most hair-raising concepts are not accepted," that should be "whose." Pedantry rules!

But this is one of the distinctions you make so well : the difference between understanding black folklore, which IS essential!; vs. using a connection to that folklore as an excuse to make "Ray Brown Trio" music, and diss other people's music. Anyway, your great list above shows (Charles Mingus through McCoy Tyner - not to mention Coltrane and Miles!)........the greatest experimentalists in jazz have almost all been black.

Ethan: I'm going to try and disagree with your disagreement (with faq). While I understand the desire to honor "dues paid" and to respect the folkloric aspect of jazz, I don't see any reason to position the "conservatives" as the heirs of jazz, as the ones who would be able to "take back" the word from the experimentalists (this is gonna be long…)

The way I see it, jazz is divided in nature. As you often point out (rightly) jazz is a very deeply folkloric music that relies heavily on "folk-isms" - types of communication, knowledge, education, expression that come from within a folk-culture (tribe?) and depend on an understanding of that culture to be fully realized. At the same time jazz is fundamentally experimental, even anti-folkloric. This music is born out of the blending of elements from different cultures, of defiling (in the best way) the cult of folklore, openly appropriating the cultures of others to create a synthesis that speaks to and of ones real lived conditions - in other words, creating a new folklore! So I don't think you can logically give primacy to the "conservatives" when the whole basis of their stance, the thing they would "conserve" is itself the product of experiment. Maybe jazz isn't as broad as I think, but I don't think you could reasonably restrict its meaning without going whole-hog: basically jazz is only early jazz - no bebop, no Coltrane, maybe not even big band. Because once you allow for that kind of evolution (it's a pretty big leap from 1917 to 1961) it's hard to justify leaving much out.

Also, Paul Wells brought up the question, and I think it's an interesting one: why has jazz changed so much so fast any way? It seems like jazz, since it was first documented, has continuously destroyed and recreated itself at a rate far greater than, say, european music of the common practice period. Why is that?

I think the answer is that recording, by creating a concrete product of music that can be infinitely reproduced, naturally works against folkloric ties. It destroys the sanctity of the tribe by putting their secrets out there for the world to see (or in this case hear). If the integrity of the tribe relies on: 1) self determination of membership 2) privileged access to tribal customs, then recording, by documenting and making accessible to all the practices of the tribe tears apart that integrity. In this way, there's some truth to the notion that a photograph "steals your soul" (this is all straight out of Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"). The cultural record created by recorded music also takes away the need for the music to be passed on by oral history. In the case of traditional folk music, say the music of a certain tribe, the passing on of culture by oral history means that tribe-expression and self-expression are fused into one. In other words, by playing the music of the tribe as one is taught, one both fulfills the preservation and of the tribe's culture, and the need to express one's own life. But with recording, the first part of that equation is taken care of: the tradition is there, it stands before us fairly well documented. And the unambiguous and unending presence of the past in the form of this record calls into question (for many) the idea of self-expression only through tradition. I mean, there it is! there's the tradition, it's there in plain sight, I don't need to reproduce it for it to exist, and it is unambiguously not me. So what do I do now?

This dilemma, combined with the general turbulence of life in modern, capitalist times, I think, accounts for jazz's constant self-reinvention. And I think it might be the best part of jazz and recorded music in general - that it constantly destroys tradition. By having a record of tradition there for us to scrutinize, we're able to confront existence, to look at the reality of what it means to create culture and express humanity, and to at least attempt to authentically determine who we are (both as individuals and as human beings) as opposed to needing to constantly affirm the existence of the tribe.

The comments to this entry are closed.