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.


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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.

I just wanted to get in touch after way too many years, albeit not neccesarily in so public a forum! But I must say how inspiring I have found your blog to be - thank you, thank you, thank you! I am still hard at work here in Berkeley, as well as raising a family and being husband to a brilliant busy wife. I am slowly working on a book about late Coltrane and Alice Coltrane after John's death - a subject you would no doubt have much to say about! I would love to be in touch, and to send you some recent CDs. Wishing you love and happiness and hoping we can see each other some day, I remain,

yours truly,

John Schott

@faq & Ryan Beckley: Thanks for you thoughtful comments. If I may address this simply and quickly before my pre-gig nap: At the end of day, that black folkloric jazz community hasn't gotten enough credit. I of course stand with those that push the music forward, but if a bill must be presented, I will pay. When I was younger I didn't think this way, but now I do.

The other thing that I really should have put in the article is that there is a LOT of completely unswinging, half-assed, vaguely straight-ahead music made by mostly white guys these days that stands on the shoulders of the guys that invented it in a very sloppy fashion. That music isn't critically praised much, but you hear it everywhere, a watery or stiff interpretation of black music. The sheer numbers are overwhelming. It may be jazz education's greatest crime. I'm already irritated, if I was black I'd probably be furious.

Now, when you get to innovators, you really have to start allowing the white cats in. These are my jazz heroes just as much as anyone. I still feel that they aren't always accepted by innovative black musicians. But maybe if we paid the bill, they would stand a better chance of becoming properly influential to everyone regardless of race.

@John Schott! My god, how are you? Everybody, John's article on Coltrane in one of the Zorn books is influential on my own criticism.

"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."

I usually find myself thinking about this can of worms in terms of a rough distinction between two ways of understanding the term 'jazz':

a) in terms of a musicological definition, such that certain specific musical features have to be present for a piece of music to be jazz, such as e.g. a certain kind of functional harmony; a recognizably Afro-Cuban rhythmic component; or 'swing', understood such that for example nothing without a regular pulse can be said to swing ... etc.

b) as referring to a kind of spirit or vitality in the music that can't really be defined musicologically (although improvisation probably has to be present), but that connects all the musics that are indisputably jazz with whatever particular music is at issue.

Conservatives tend toward (a), experimentalists toward (b), and there is often a certain amount of talking past each other, or at least not fully realizing that there is a lack of a shared basic assumption.

There can be music that fulfills the criteria of (a) but that lacks the vitality of (b), and probably some of it is played by the 'Ray Brown Trios' (I think more in terms of 'brunch gigs'). In extreme cases, this is probably no longer jazz even if they are playing Autumn Leaves. On the other hand, the energy of (b) is precisely what characterizes the best of the tradition of great music that is uncontroversially 'jazz', and for this reason I am more of a (b) guy myself.

Not claiming that the above settles anything, but this is where my mind usually starts off in considering these difficult questions.

PS. Ethan, I missed your 10:24 AM reply before making that last post ... I think we're partly talking about the same thing.

It seems to me that this idea of "racism" in jazz only exists in the sense that people continually have to bring it up to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, different. When I listen to Coltrane or the Bad Plus, the color of the musicians never enters my mind. In fact, if music was to be only audible, who would know what color the musicians were, or for that matter who would care?

I just saw the Robert Glasper Trio at the Jazz Showcase this past weekend. Not one tune they played swung. If you weren't watching the performance (only listening) and had no previous knowledge of the band, by some of the logic made in previous posts on this blog, this band would be white.

I do agree, Ethan, with your statement, "If genre clarification does get pushed through, most of my own performing career will take place outside the word, “jazz.” I won't fight it: I have too much respect for a century of working-class black jazz musicians who paid unbelievably serious dues." But I also strongly agree with your statement that you, as a musician, take your experiences and knowledge and mash them together and try to move forward. Hasn't this always been the goal of jazz? A progressive music? An experimental music? I believe this is the only reasonable and experimental frontier left in this music.

It's funny that MUSICIANS of all people hang on to this race card like it's essential for the music to thrive. Yes, jazz comes from a black tradition and an African language. But that doesn't mean that both black and white musicians aren't capable of expressing themselves equally on an instrument in a way that may be considered "jazz" music. It's depressing to hear people talk about this topic like it's up for a presidential debate.

It's essential for any "modern jazz musician" to understand and respect the roots of this music. You can't move forward if you can't understand the past. However, that doesn't mean the present and future must remain within the constraints of the past. I respect jazz musicians that want to hold on to traditions. That's their own thing. But it seems ignorant to downsize everything that doesn't fit a conservative idea of a jazz vocabulary or language. It just seems to me that if any jazz great of the past were to come back to life and hear jazz music in 2011, they may be very saddened to find that no one has moved the art form forward. "Why are you STILL playing that?!?!"

I apologize in advance if this post isn't as coherent as it should be. I'm at work and this whole topic just angers me. Jazz isn't very accessible as it is, and then this sort of thing runs deep in the music and we wonder why people get turned off to jazz in the first place.

On a lighter note, I've booked myself some seats for your TBP show in Boston next weekend (a birthday present from my girlfriend) and your stay at the Jazz Showcase this December. I look forward to the shows! Also, we saw you guys do the Rite of Spring at the Loring a couple months back, and it was absolutely astounding. Love the blog, as always. Keep it up.

As Ryan said, the people who paid the dues and pushed the music forward = one and the same. There are bootleg tapes of Coltrane playing hair-raising "honking" solos in R&B bands in the early 50s. He later spoke of that experience as valuable, and only the most myopic, partisan person could say that the fabulous screaming choruses he took on "India" in the 60s were unrelated to what he played while "walking the bar" a decade earlier. If anything, those 60s choruses are a really beautiful continuation of someone who from the beginning (as Ryan said much better) wanted to experience all there was to experience in music. Isn't that what any musician worth a grain of salt is seeking? Coltrane didn't continue in order to be innovative. You can't just sit down and make innovative music, and if you try to, it will probably sound like crap. That's the problem with giving priority to terms like innovation and tradition. It endlessly puts an historical slant on what at the end of the day is a musical matter. It also gives it a color-neutral face. And thus at the same time, it remains divorced from the incredible thing about history, which is that black musicians took the most unfortunate circumstance and distilled from it the beauty of all the music Americans hear. The jazz education syndicate doesn't teach that latter part well, but they teach the polarities of tradition and innovation. Cue the assless results.

@all: thanks for the comments. I've said my bit about this I think. over and out for 8 hours --

I can certainly understand and sympathize Payton's reaction to Ratliff as racist. I had a very strong reaction to Ratliff’s review of Muhal Richard Abrams and Joseph Jarman at Vision Festival in June of 2010. I found it a horribly embarrassing, offensive and blatantly racist article. Jarman explicitly, adamantly and passionately praised Abrams as being a truly supportive, nonjudgmental grandfather of the AACM and its members’ creativity. Ratliff, in his review, compared Muhal's solo performance to Cecil Taylor, which is inherently judgmental, certainly not a fair comparison and irrelevant in terms of being in the present moment. Ratliff also said there wasn't any development in Abrams' performance. Development, I believe, in the way Ratliff meant it, is largely a European concept. I feel that African culture is very strongly based in a sense of being and that Western culture is really the oddball, world wide, in being the most willing to quickly disassociate itself from a sense of being, often by way of thought or concept. I felt there was definitely development in Abrams’ performance, which leads me to believe that Ratliff was looking for a particular type of development, which is judgmental and comparison oriented. Considering that George Lewis had come out with a book on the AACM, it was foolish of Ratliff to not be informed about the AACM’s values and purposes. Ethan Iverson wrote about this book in his blog and was at this concert. Ratliff could have asked Iverson for help. That would have engaged the principle of community, which is extremely essential to the sacredness of jazz music as well as the AACM. Fred Anderson was supposed to play that night but, unfortunately, he had just died. Abrams stood next to the piano and held the space for ten minutes of silence to honor Anderson. I found it truly stunning. I saw Abrams bravely manifesting multiple archetypes as elder, African, spirit being and bodhisattva. Ratliff reported that he had a weak smile. Ratliff's remark made me wonder if he was really there. In my thinking, the remark was beyond disbelief. The music that night was certainly not easy listening at times, so I can understand a less than glowing review. However, it appears that it is a somewhat advanced or esoteric concept that meaningful music, art or life could be beyond the duality of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. I believe you have to relate to the performer and understand what they are trying to do in order to do any service, even as a mere reporter.

I did some diversity studies a few years back it completely changed my outlook. Payton's reaction is very common for someone in any oppressed group. I think to field Payton’s comments productively in context is a very subtle thing. As enlightening as Ethan's points are, and they definitely are to me, they don't totally address the experience of a diversity conversation, which is of a different type. I think what was written did extremely well for the written word, but this kind of conversation seeks resolution (or non resolution) in a space which is completely wide open, big hearted, vast, possessing multitudes and devoid of any kind of quick fix approach, mere conceptual conclusion or sense of finality or dualism. Closure would have to happen in person, in the presence of caring people in a circle formation, in space time.

The question of whether to name the New York Times as institutionally racist is a fascinating one. I’m not a big fan of this approach because it is so difficult to not indulge in inflammatory feelings and those effects are such an effective kill joy to all the things I aspire to accomplish. However, there is indeed a possibility of success in this approach if it were fielded as a protest with numerous supporters. Only then might a group be able to get the attention of the organization and inspire it to more closely examine the contents of its contributors. To keep things simple, I would prefer that a reporter bow out on their own accord if they don’t have anything good or constructive to say, to know if their work is good or at least to seek peer review. I certainly hope New York Times reporters are not subject to the same quotas that the police are subject to right now.

All in all, this is a fascinating subject. The conversation should be carried on – with development! We should strive to bring arts journalism to a higher level, further informed by scholarship and philosophy - a much more subtle understanding of experience, magic, culture, society and its people. If we could even just put into a few words what makes a show magical, that would really be something. We are cultured people so we should have some interest in matters of words.

Ethan: Sorry if this is just beating a dead horse, but I feel like you didn't really address my main point before.
If I'm reading you right, you're claiming that a certain type of jazz is "black music," that the black community has an exclusive "birthright" to it. I see a lot of truth in that: the black community is undeniably the original author of jazz, and members of that community have every right to view the music as a part of "their" heritage. But on another level, the basic method used to create jazz (blending elements taken from diverse cultures) flies in the face of any respect for communal integrity - the whole process is based on disrespecting traditional barriers.

Certainly many of the makers of the european parlor music that influenced jazz were racist to the core and would have been appalled to see their music "desecrated" by blacks. It's a later example, but Cole Porter famously hated what jazz musicians did with his music. Do we then say that jazz musicians were wrong to take his music, or that Porter had a right to say their versions were "wrong"? For the most part, no. Once you commit that initial act of cultural appropriation, it's hard to justify reserving the product of that appropriation as totally one's own, or as totally belonging to any one community. (also, recorded music, like I said before, takes away the "birthright" of any community to their culture by creating a context-less, endlessly reproducible product that can then be re-embedded in any number of cultural contexts, mixed around and deformed beyond recognition, e.g the road from blues to Christina Aguilera) So I still don't see any reason that, if there's a bill to be paid, it would paid to hard-core traditionalists. But I do agree with your point that the "black folkloric jazz community hasn't gotten enough credit": they deserve credit for creating a music that ultimately defies ownership and puts us on the road to a world of cultural creation freed from the hindrance of mythical notions of racial/tribal identity or contrived barriers like genre, in which expression is based on life as it is lived, not as tradition would tell us it should be

@Ethan iverson: Thank you for offering the forum to contribute. Hope you don't feel bombarded with all the comments! It is great of you to allow people to add what is hopefully just a bit of nuance to the top of the excellent discussion you've started. Keep the faith, sir.

@Arnold: Hello! It's been a while. I must say I disagree with your claim that Ratliff was "blatantly racist." As a long-time Ratliff watcher, I can't imagine him being blatantly racist about anything. What's more, I myself was at that very gig and thought it wasn't Muhal's best work. BUT, your idea that AACM music needs to be taken on it's own terms is certainly true. And your discussion of Payton has merit, thank you.

@Ryan: I'm sorry that you're frustrated by my responses. Your work will remain here to be considered by everyone else, and you write well enough that it will indeed be considered! I think we just come at this from different angles.

@faq: everything is cool! The point about the forum was to let others air it all out.

Still hoping to hear from another Payton defender, though. At least Arnold weighed in, but there's certainly room for a straight-ahead musician.

Re: Brahms' 2nd and Bruno Walter - see the video of Walter rehearsing the first movement with the Vancouver Philharmonic - I think of it all the time, especially his imploring them "Sing! Sing out!" at the arrival of the second theme. It's been released twice, and may well be on youtube.

John Schott

Ethan -- I realize that your use of the term "Ray Brown Trios" was about something broader than Ray Brown as such. Still, it might be interesting for DTM readers to get a flavor of what kind of person Mr. Brown actually was. At risk of self-advertisement, I'm offering a link to a post I put up on my blog on Oct. 13th that contains my obit, the complete transcript of an interview that Mr. Brown and Christian McBride did with me on WKCR in 1996, and the complete transcripts of all the interviews that I conducted for a long DB obit in 2002. (

One of those interviews was with Geoff Keezer. Geoff mentioned that he was happy to have had the opportunity to tell Mr. Brown not long before he died that playing with him was the best thing ever for his own piano playing. I asked why.
"Number one, just because we’re playing every night. Number two, because what Ray brought was such a wonderful kind of support. For me, Ray embodied every quality that I like in a bass player. He did everything really perfectly, and he did all the things that you can’t really say to a bass player, but all the things that you just wish they would do! It’s almost like with another bassist, you want to say, “Why can’t you do what Ray does?” but you don’t want to say that. I’m trying to think if I can explain a little bit more clearly.

"First of all, his beat was so huge, and he swung really, really hard. Also harmonically speaking, he was so completely aware in every moment of what I was doing, and I felt that he was truly accompanying me. Even though he was the leader and it was his band, I felt like I had complete freedom to go whatever direction I wanted. If you heard some of the records we made, you know I took it further out than any other pianist. I only remember one time when he sort of said something about what I was playing. I started playing the Darth Vader theme in the middle of something, and he leaned over and said, “Jazz, please!” But other than that, I got to do as much as I possibly could, and he was right there with me.

"There’s another thing about his bass playing which I always talk about in workshops. That’s his understanding of how to play a walking bassline. Very few people really understand this. What he was doing at all times was playing melodies. And a lot of younger bass players play four notes to the bar, and the notes they choose usually relate to the chords in some way, but the actual notes don’t connect up to any kind of melody. And with Ray, if you isolated just the bassline and superimposed it over the chords, let’s say in a higher register, you’d have a beautiful melody all the time. This is similar to what Bach does. But what that means is that not only was he aware of the chords and being a rhythmic instrument, but he was also creating these melodies all the time underneath everything that I was doing — contrapuntal, in a way. It’s really an advanced level of bass playing. There’s only a couple of guys I can think of off the top of my head who can do that — Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Ray Drummond, and a handful of younger players. It’s a very subtle aspect of playing bass, which hasn’t really migrated well to the younger generation."

Now, this doesn't sound like the aesthetic attitude of a musical conservative. Rather, the Ray Brown that Geoff described sounds like a paradigm for professionalism. Yes, as he indicates, Ray Brown was conscious that he was functioning as an entertainer. But doesn't TBP also incorporate a little showmanship in their presentation? Doesn't Jason Moran with Bandwagon? Doesn't Cecil Taylor do this, not to mention the Art Ensemble of Chicago? It doesn't diminish the music at all; it's part of being a performing artist.

Back to the "institutional racism" question: It's interesting to consider the whole notion of what's considered radical or "new" and what isn't in mainstream discourse these days. I have no idea whether Mulgrew would say that any of the pianists that Ben Ratliff mentioned were playing "interview music," as Mulgrew put it to me in that 2005 DownBeat article (DB wouldn't go for a feature, so it became a mid-size 1200-word piece, which tells you something, though I'm not sure what...) I interpret his point as denoting a frustration that I think many black (but not only black) musicians feel when they continually see in mainstream media the use of the words "innovative" or "new" or "experimental" in describing the latest restaurant or art exhibition or just about any musical production that doesn't incorporate the tropes of mainstem jazz, etc., but that the default attitude towards musicians, black or white, who are trying to create and project a voice that builds upon that tradition of addressing swing and groove and blues feeling, which primarily emanates, as you state, from "black community folklore," is that somehow they operate outside the zeitgeist -- or, as you put it, are "boring" or "conservative" or playing "Ray Brown Trio music." There's no sense in this kind of discourse that their choice to work within this context this doesn't necessarily mean that they ipso facto reject music that falls outside of those "Ray Brown Trio" music parameters, or that they haven't investigated "the most hair-raising concepts" of the artists you mentioned, or, indeed, that they haven't taken gigs where they do play repertoire that references things that might be presumed to be "out of the box," just as you yourself do bebop gigs with Tootie Heath and play on homage concerts for James P. Johnson. Not that I want to speak for anyone, but I think a big cause of the frustration that musicians experience is the notion that the writers -- primarily but not exclusively white writers, and I'm not talking about Ben or Nate here -- PRESUME that these factors are at play in their musical production.

I don't see the attitude of "Don’t work on your career except to make sure you can always gig with ‘The Ray Brown Trios.” or "don’t play anything that Ray himself wouldn’t have liked" as operative in the strongest young black -- and non-black -- musicians I'm acquainted with who play straight-ahead. A lot of them (for example, most of the cats from Houston) have been working professionally since they were teenagers and forming a point of view -- even if they went to jazz school, they had already developed the kernel of a point of view before. I do agree with this remark [“Doing something first” is the best way for careers in jazz to have longevity. It’s not just coverage by the New York Times: It’s why you can play in alternative venues in America, it’s why the European promoter hires you, it’s why independent non-jazz radio plays you, it’s why non-musicians hand your record around. “It’s new."], but I know that you used quotation marks for a reason.

Cool, thanks! Just want to say that Ryan's and Arnold's comments are very heartening - encompassing multiple perspectives with a tolerance guided by love of the music. In the same vein, I don't see why Payton needs to be defended or rebutted at this point. Besides the fact he plays great, it's easy to dig where he's coming from. He just misstepped. Ratliff's not racist, he's major-league yuppy. Uses English major doublespeak, trying to reduce non-verbal art form to words. Bound to fail. But it's the lion's share of his job, and he's a little too good at it. Arnold explains well......Also, there's a 1988 Down Beat interview in which Miles responds to a question about black critics by saying something like, "I never met a black critic." That gets a lot closer to the nub. And Miles didn't have to play conservative music to prove it. What he says here applies equally to Ben Ratliff AND the "Ray Brown Trios":

could you expand upon this comment a little? forgive my ignorance, but what is happening in Houston?

"The minute some instrumentalists figure out how to really align the most mysterious qualities of jazz with this contemporary folklore there will be some hit jazz records again. (Right now, Houston seems to be where they are making those coming closest, but nothing has really broken through yet.)"

Thanks for the consistently great blog and for hosting one branch of this important discussion.

Re: Institutional Racism/Criticism of Criticism/etc..
Maybe the best response (To Mr. Ratliffs article) would be be to gang up on him and intimidate him into writing about what you think he should think is important to write about? I'm sure that's how many of you approach your own career paths, following lines of inquiry that you think other people want/ expect/ demand you to follow, right?
Besides, what's all the fuss, it's not like it's an article about guitarists... :-}

Everyone is raising excellent points but I feel that one very obvious point is being overlooked. I don't know how many people read the print edition, but we must not forget that although the Times is a cultural taste maker it is a daily paper. The original article appeared in the Friday Arts-Movies and Performances section and I am just guessing that due to the fact that all four pianists were performing in NYC that week that the editors may have thought that was a great hook for a story. Peep the "Where To Hear Them" sidebar. This discussion is valid but from the perspective of a saxophonist from New Orleans I can tell you I would love to be featured in the Friday Arts section if I was playing in NYC. I could be totally wrong, but common sense tells me Ben Ratliff was doing his gig.

@faq: I have to say, I dig Ben Ratliff, he's an influence on my own writing.

@Matt Stein: Chris Dave, Robert Glasper and others, even Jason Moran at times...

@Ted Panken: Ah, thank goodness that a Ray Brown supporter is here!

And thanks for putting your interviews on the blog. Amazing.

For my taste, I prefer bassists that don't work in lockstep with the pianist in straight-ahead music. Brown shadows the left hand. Holland I'm not sure, haven't heard him play in that style much. Drummond is more my style, honestly I'd rather play with him than Brown. My favorite cats (among others) are Garrison, Haden,Buster, Wilbur Ware, even P.C. and Pettiford, all of whom offer a grittier kind of counterpoint.

This "acceptance of the harmony" is why I love Brown in a studio setting, like "Killer Joe" on WALKING IN SPACE, which really is a beautiful melody the way Geoff talks about -- and over those insane changes, too!

A couple more examples to try to prove an admittedly obscure point: I prefer Brown and Manne on Hawes's AT THE PIANO to WAY OUT WEST. The Hawes is groovy studio music, but the wide-open spaces of the Sonny is less correct for them -- or at least, Wilbur Ware is so much better trio for Sonny.

Likewise, I've already complained on this thread about the strange vibe on SOMETHING FOR LESTER. But Ray and Elvin sound great laying it in for a couple of Phineas Newborn albums from a similar era. They are less "creative" for Newborn, and it works out better because of the way Ray plays.

Still, I admit I don't own any of the Brown albums with Keezer, consensus is that I should get one.

Just to be clear, I'm not against entertainment! Modern jazz desperately needs more entertainment on the bandstand. I never saw Ray's trio live but if he had some "entertainment" chops that's awesome.

Thanks again Ted, I'll consider everything you wrote.

@everybody else -- thanks for commenting...

Hi Ethan -- I hope this message finds you well. It was great meeting you this year at Stanford, and I still think back fondly to your beautiful duet with Marcus Belgrave on the final concert: simply beautiful.

I really appreciated reading your original post, and the thread that it has inspired. Arnold's & Ted's posts above, especially, resonated with me.

No matter how much I return to your original post, even as amended, I still find myself wondering about this concept of yours, "The Ray Brown Trios." It remains unclear to me what you are referring to -- both as an approach to playing music, and also, as you say, an approach to careers in music. The fuzziness of the concept, your hesitancy to define it further (I mean, you do well describing your reasons for preferring other bass players to Ray Brown, but as far as what and who "The Ray Brown Trios" are, I'm still in the dark), and the assumptions you make about the musical preferences of many of these unnamed musicians (the assumption, for example, that 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 are "not accepted" by them) have the effect of undermining your argument in the end.

I remember a tour I did in 2009 with Diana Krall in Europe. The bassist was Ben Wolfe (a great bassist who reveres Ray Brown) and the drummer was Karriem Riggins (a former member of the *real* Ray Brown Trio. Later in the tour, Robert Hurst (a huge Ray Brown acolyte) replaced Ben. Every night, as a band (including Diana, who was actively mentored by Ray Brown and is one of her hugest influences), we listened to music on the bus, into the wee hours (I even remember listening to a recording of you, Ben Street, and Tootie Heath, from a live set at Smalls). I can say definitively that we listened often to many of the musicians in the list cited above, and many many more. We listened to J Dilla side-by-side with George Russell side-by-side with Guillermo Klein, and enjoyed and file-shared them all. How can I reconcile your assumptions about musicians influenced by Ray Brown and what is on their radar with my actual lived experience of musicians who worked with and were influenced by Ray Brown? I simply can't. These musicians are as open as it's possible to be to sounds and approaches new and old, and it just seems incongruous to me, and also a misstep (if we're talking about missteps) to have implicated Ray Brown in any of this. I really feel that his approach to music is ultimately not responsible for some of the things that you think it is, and not what you are trying to pinpoint.

If you could clarify this part of your thesis, you might aid readers like me in understanding it.

Thanks a lot for all your thoughtful writing, illuminating interviews, and -- always -- your incredible playing.

Ratliff has been churning out thousands of words per month for years and only now these accusations pop up? I don't think anyone with that prominent of a voice in jazz criticism is unaware of the significance of race and if he did have an agenda it would have been expressed far sooner.

Give the guy a break. The consequence is going to be a serious apprehension about covering anything not racially diverse which can be just as limiting.

Unlike posting to a blog there are a handful of people between Ratliff and his readership that should shoulder some of the responsibility.

@Anthony Wilson: Thanks for contributing to this discussion, a voice like yours was needed! You're a great musician, it was really nice to meet this summer.

Sorry about all this. There's some disconnect in everything I write on DTM as a critic. If I am a practitioner, that means by default that I can't be well-rounded!

I don't like recently-made conservative-sounding jazz except in rare cases. Part of that has everything to do with the battle I have fought to be unconservative.

I protect my contemporaries by not being senselessly provocative on the blog -- at least most of the time. I guess this may be regrettable exception -- time will tell if it was a good idea or not.

But in re: Stanford. Since you brought it up, that duo with Belgrave illustrates the way I think, and perhaps if I parse it out it will explain some things.

1) Belgrave is incredible.

2) I felt like I wasn't getting enough chances to hear him play. I was particularly irritated that the TBP lecture was scheduled to conflict with his talk about jazz in Detroit. I wanted to be in his class, not teaching myself.

3) I asked him if he wanted to be featured on a ballad for the final concert. He was delighted, and named a tune I'd never played so I had to bust my ass trying to get it together. I refuse to be seen on the bandstand playing a standard with a chart; "THE RAY BROWN TRIOS" use far too much paper. (Although I suspect the real Ray Brown didn't use paper on the stand -- for sure the Oscar Peterson trio didn't read charts!!!)

4) I told everybody it was going to be duo. I don't know if that was Marcus's first choice, I doubt it was the staff's. But I pushed it through because I don't like being part of casual groups, and ballads can actually be just about the worst for this. "THE RAY BROWN TRIOS" ballad playing is particularly unmemorable, because the emotional connection is professional rather than passionate.

5) Marcus said I should play a chorus, I begged him that I shouldn't. Why does the piano player automatically get a chorus, for ever and ever, amen? I told him an atmospheric intro was all I needed, then the floor was his. He disagreed, told me I had to play. OK, not the end of the world. But the song -- which was amazing, Marcus melted the audience -- would have even been better if I hadn't taken my little solo. In art -- not in folklore, but in art -- every decision should be the best decision, not just the obvious decision.

(God, that felt self-involved to write down.)

ANYWAY, If all that conservative jazz made since 1990 strove constantly to make the best decision, then I'd probably love it. Instead, a lot of obviousness is around. Erroll Garner and Earl Hines look like the most extreme avant-gardists compared to middle of the road pianists today.

OK; enough. I don't really know how Karriem Riggins plays, except that if he played in Brown's band he must be able to swing. But I dig both Ben Wolfe and Bob Hurst. Wolfe in particular strikes me as kind of a weird player (I mean this in the best sense). And I celebrated the early Wynton records which feature Hurst -- records which are also in no way obvious!

I love that there are hardly any bass solos on these early Wynton records. Duke Ellington said while listening to some straight-ahead jazz, "Those bass solos keep coming up like commercials."

Of course, I love great bass solos. But I prefer the bassist to be a major force sticking out in the music, and only take the occasional solo -- preferably unaccompanied.

Thanks again Anthony...

@Sean: Right, I agree, but see, so does Payton! He's addressing the Times, not Ratliff. Ratliff definitely has bosses; all the bosses and fellow music critics probably work on getting a consensus of what should be covered.

an apology owed to ratliff. he places too much faith in words, and i'll stand by arnold's comment that he treats music more as a fashionable cultural object than a living human process. but this is the times arts section. mostly white upper middle-class audience, which doesn't know a thing about improvisation, historically or experientially. anyway, ratliff's JAZZ EAR is great - he spares us any music theory lameness - and hopefully, it was clear what among that miles vid applies to him. (realized there are some dangerous sentiments there - insightful and necessary in general, but hurtful when applied to any one person). peace-faq

Forget Payton, I'd love to see you interview Dwayne Burno. Please consider it. That would be blog GOLD!

Thank you for all the fantastic essays and interviews.

Also, thank you for the above explanation of your issue with the "Ray Brown Trios."
I am a music student who feels most strongly drawn to "straight ahead, swinging, blues based jazz." However, agree that much of the last decade or two of that genre sounds too restrained and formulaic. This gives me some food for thought about how to avoid obviousness in my own playing.

Out of curiosity, are there any straight ahead records after the first generation of the young lions that stand out to you more than others? (You may wish to just put the whole issue to rest and not take any more questions on it though.)

Thanks again!

@everyone: just off the plane

I don't really know Burno or Payton, if I get to know them it will happen --

@Gregory -- huh, I'll think about it...

Thanks for continuing to point the way to great music/books/articles…

Wondering how many of these books you've read:

Looking forward to seeing you in St. Louis for several gigs (Pittsburgh will be represented again).


Apologies if you've already addressed this--you have, in part, in your piece on The Great Jazz Trio--but what are your favorite Hank Jones records? I know this is a tough one, since he's so consistently good.

Hi Ethan - very thought provoking pieces lately! The Bud Powell retrospective was amazing. I had a question about it though - you briefly mention the blue note quintet sessions that resulted in The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1, not in the most positive light. I adore those recordings - the head to 'Wail' never ceases to amaze me - and Bud's solo is just sheer virtuosity besides a few characteristic "fluffs." Could you expand as to why these recordings aren't your favorite? Just interested...

Also, as far as Girlfriend chords go, are you totally against the major 7 sharp 5 chord, or just its overuse by white jazz musicians? Probably a nerdy question, but I'm just curious if you ever use a chord like that in your own playing.

Thanks for the great blogging - I owe a lot to this website!!

Glasper's style may or may not be your thing, but when I first saw his group with Chris Dave at the Vanguard... I felt excited in the same way I did discovering TBP, Brad Melhdau, and Marco Benevento (not so much a jazz player but one of my favorites).
It's almost like the same movement happening in two worlds: with indie-rock (predominantly white artists) and hip hop/r&b (predominantly black artists).

I grew up on rock, and got into hip hop a few years ago; these groups all had points of entry into jazz for me. Now i'm into Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer as well, who are kind of in a grey area.
A classic album for me in the current era is "Yesterday You Said Tomorrow" by Christian Scott's group. I also loved what I heard of Payton's "Bitches" and he blew me away at JALC earlier this year.

Funny, also, that "Smells like teen spirit" has been covered by TBP, Benevento/Russo Duo, Glasper, and Mehldau...all in drastically different ways.

Looking forward to TBP's week at the Vanguard. The shows with Josh Redman at the Blue Note this year were also awesome.

Mr. Iverson,

Given that both you and Nicholas Payton have said that jazz has been a black-dominated art form throughout its history, isn’t it possible that you could have arrived at the same conclusion as Payton upon viewing the article, that it was somewhat odd that in an art form so dominated by a certain segment of society that no one among them was seemingly qualified enough to be mentioned?

What’s most interesting to me, though, is that you reconciled his position as a matter of racial bias more than him making a reasonable intellectual conclusion based on a historical context upon which you both essentially agree. But instead of recognizing this connection, you’ve chosen to intimate that Payton holds forth out of racial solidarity. Thus his race dictated his opinion, not his intellect.

Hi Ethan,

Thanks for your great blog, and for the opportunity this week to let others post here.

Without opening up the entire Randy Sandke discussion again, I wanted to tell my view of the "New York Stories" record date from 1985 (one of the two Sandke albums you mentioned). You wrote that this was an example of a bad rhythm section sound from that era, saying "There are two Sandke albums in my collection, New York Stories from 1985 and Outside In from 2001. New York Stories is one of thousands of badly engineered jazz records from the early ‘80s, with an artificially massive bass and tiny drums." Referring to Wynton's better concept of a recorded bass sound during this period, you wrote: "An argument could be made that Wynton really helped out Sandke here!"

I agree with your opinion of my bass sound on that record. Here's how it came about: We recorded at Rudy van Gelder's studio. Randy had instructed me to be sure and tell Rudy what I wanted from the bass sound . . . how I thought it should be recorded. When we set up in the studio, I actually told Rudy "I love that sound you got on Paul Chambers, Percy Heath, and Bob Cranshaw and I named some records." Rudy acknowledged that and put me in a booth with a mic (ideal). After he checked the sound and had me play for a few minutes, he came out and told me "That's not the sound you want." Then he put me in the main room and plugged in my pickup (a Fishman BP-100, the state-of-the-art in 1985). No mic.

I wasn't going to argue with RvG, so I went with that. Plus, we were recording with M. Brecker, McNeely and Kenny Washington and I didn't want to hang things up. If I had the wisdom then that I (sort of) have now, I would have known not to even show up with the pickup on the bass. Rudy recorded that date direct-to-2-track. It was early in the digital recording years. I remember the playbacks being very loud, with massive bass, and massive everything. The music was good ... but the sound is now dated.

That sound from 1985 typifies the sound that a lot of bassists were getting on records, especially at Rudy's (Rufus Reid, Ray Drummond, Ron Carter, etc).

You're right that Wynton M., and Branford M. did a lot to improve the standard of bass sounds on their records. They helped move the bass sound back to an acoustic entity. I also think a lot had to do with the ECM bass sounds . . . Peacock, Dave Holland, Miroslav, etc. After the "clean" years of direct bass sounds, musicians finally realized that the acoustic sound is just more aesthetically pleasing.

On another note, I loved the project that you guys did with Jim McNeely and the HR Big Band in Frankfurt . . . watched it online. Fantastic.

@David Bruce Smith: I have read 6 of the 9 books!

@Rick Madigan: Of the non-Ron/Tony discs, try TRIO with Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke and work your way forward...

@Hank: I adore the tune "Wail!" But for some reason like the piano solo on the earlier "Fool's Fancy" better. I could be wrong.

Of course Herbie Hancock and all sorts of people use the Girlfriend Chord all the time. I use it in my own tunes, I guess, but probably only the way someone like Brahms uses it (E over C resolves to A minor first inversion). Some of the Billy Hart repertoire has it; it's fun to think about and navigate.

@Dylan Maida: Nice, I remember the first time I heard Glasper he had integrated Radiohead with Herbie Hancock, that's as far from "THE RAY BROWN TRIOS" you can get. Great pianist of course.

@Rob Damen: Thanks for this perspective. I may be more racist than I suspect, it's always good to double-check. However, I would have written my piece if Payton was white. A lot of white jazz musicians mutter that Times is against innovation too, and they would be the first to support Payton's theme.

But the second part of my essay could have only been written in response to conservative black musicians -- I just don't worry about the future of white cats in the same way. And I think we NEED black musicians in jazz for it to stay interesting.

Someone particularly unfriendly may regard this attitude in the harshest light, as "The white zookeeper." Who am I to tell black musicians anything about anything? But after watching this stuff for twenty years, I thought it was time to at least offer up this opinion. It may be a bit selfish (I'd do anything to play with a modern-day Wilbur Ware) but it is certainly sincere. And I remain concerned about the simple economics of making a jazz career.

@John Goldsby! Thank you so much for this valuable comment. It sounds like you made the best choices in a tough situation. And I think you are so right to praise ECM. My Young Lion post makes the same point

Speaking of McNeely, I remember well a great duo gig of you with him at an Aebersold camp many moons ago.

@everyone: The comments are now closed. Another Forumesque will show up in a few months. If I see valid future “From the Ground Up” responses I will link.

I wonder now about leading off with Ghostbusters. I was so horrified by the my recent viewing, but it might have been better to find an example of institutional racism within recent jazz criticism.

In "Reading the Black Jazz Writers,"

I pointed out John McDonough's "Six Forgotten Beats: Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Sid Catlett, and Dave Tough" in the November 2008 issue of DownBeat and wrote, "It's a longish piece, but McDonough doesn't mention skin color once...McDonough says that Krupa was the first ("and presumably most important") drummer inducted in the DB Hall of Fame in 1972."

While I criticized McDonough then for not addressing race, I still wouldn't call him racist, because how can you get that angry about anyone who really loves old-school drummers?

But that Krupa was the first inductee to the hall of fame is unquestionably institutionally racist. And that DB was being self-referential and somewhat self-reverential in 2008 about that unhappy win is also institutionally racist.

Of course, 2008 is old news and 1972 is really old news. But I just happened across on McDonough when working on my Wynton material, and if I went through 2011 jazz mags today I bet I could find something that shows a critic (in Payton words) "imagining a world of Jazz without African-Americans."

At the New York Times, though...I doubt it. They do a good job. Of all the problems jazz faces, coverage at the Times is NOT the problem.

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