Hey, that Sonny Rollins piece (well, it wasn’t really a Sonny Rollins piece, but you know…) by Django Gold (who said in a comment on a blogpost that that’s his real name) in The New Yorker (on its website, anyway, by way of Gold, who mostly works for The Onion) got a lot of attention, didn’t it?
It made a lot of jazz fans upset, and they chimed in. And it made a lot of people who don’t like jazz, or don’t know jazz but think they probably wouldn’t like it, or are a little scared by jazz, or sort of like some jazz but like to pile anyway on when there’s a chance to put something or someone down and feel good about themselves while doing it—yeah, all those people chimed in too, right?
And all those blogposts and Facebook likes and tweets and online comments, that’s got to mean it was all important. Like the writer was onto something, had something to say, touched a nerve.
Hey, the jazz world should be happy for all the attention, given the paltry sales of jazz recordings. That community is so high and mighty, really, someone needs to set things straight, call them out, no?
Problem with Django Gold was that he picked on one guy. The wrong guy—Rollins, who, well, isn’t known as Colossus for nothing, has a lot of friends (many with regular columns in print and online), and isn’t dead yet (so he can speak up, and did).
Problem with Gold was that he picked on just one guy, instead of just jazz by name.
The above was told to me by Justin Moyer, who wrote a gripping column in the Washington Post’s online Opinions section, with the title “All That Jazz Isn’t All That Great.” (Gripping, as in the slight sweat and tremors you feel when, say, the fish wasn’t fully cooked).
Ok, Moyer really didn’t tell me anything. Never spoke to the guy. But since when does that matter, in the post-Django-Gold discourse about culture?
Moyer claims to have “studied jazz while an undergraduate at Wesleyan University and had the privilege of learning from, at varying distances, some of the genre’s great performers and teachers, including Anthony Braxton, Pheeroan akLaff and Jay Hoggard.” As he tells us, he “appreciated that these generous African American men deigned to share their art at a quite white New England liberal-arts school. But I just didn’t get their aesthetic. Like cirrus clouds or cotton candy, I found jazz generically pleasing, but insubstantial and hard to grasp.”
Moyer does seem to grasp a few things. Like how Gold’s Rollins piece (well, again, not really a Rollins piece, but let’s not overanalyze) demonstrated that pissing on jazz, far from being a crime, can be charming to those who would love to just pull over and piss on something but haven’t the time or the nerve.
And why not jazz? It seems a lot of people have stopped listening to their old jazz recordings and have left them out on the curb, anyway, pretty much inviting us to piss on the music, right? (Again, I’m quoting Moyer, or imagining that he told me this stuff, which is close enough to quoting I think to at least qualify as satire.)
Moyer does grasp that by combining what critic Marc Myers identified in a blogpost about Gold’s New Yorker piece as the “jackass culture” with a dollop of the right-wing pundit’s suspicion of intellectualism, aesthetics, and higher education, he’s got something to work with—the easy indignance that is one part fear, another ignorance and yet another a desperate or perhaps entrepreneurial desire to be heard.
Moyer likes songs better when they have words. Such an attitude leads to deep analysis like this:
Many versions of jazz standards — including “I Cover the Waterfront,” “How High the Moon” and “My Funny Valentine” — jettison poetry to showcase virtuosity. The result is a net loss.
Can’t argue with math, right?
He is confused about the difference between they improvisational style of Phish as compared with, say, Eric Dolphy.
He knows that he’s supposed to like Ornette Coleman, and agrees with the many critics who say, essentially, that if we all stop listening to anyone whose music followed Ornette (including Ornette after, say, 1959), then we can agree that there’s nothing more to hear and call it a day.
Moyer has been watching what’s trending on social media. Transgender issues are hot, so why not pluck out sissy bounce star Big Freedia—the jazz community is “unwilling to embrace the music of a more alien, more controversial 21st-century African American underground — music like Big Freedia’s sissy bounce,” he wrote. Of course, Moyer is likely unaware of how closely affiliated Big Freedia’s expression may or may not be to the legacy of jazz culture in her hometown of New Orleans, where she headlined at annual Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Actually, there might have been a thread of a thought about race to unspool in Moyer’s comments about Big Freedia, and especially about learning from African American masters at a “quite-white” school. And in his closing lines:
Want to have a heated discussion about “Bitches Brew” or the upper partials ? White guys wielding brass in Manhattan and New England are ready to do battle.
But that would take time. So much time that, well, one might as well be listening to the 13-plus-minute version of “ ‘A’ Train” by the Charles Mingus sextet that Moyer finds insufferably long. It would require courage and work. And, hey, this pissing on stuff like jazz is supposed to be fun.
Moyer seems less interested in pointing to ideas like the dynamics of race than in letting readers know that he has heard “Bitches Brew” and knows what “partials” are, and so he ultimately sounds like the very entitled and arrogance elitists he wishes to paint jazz fans as, only in his case he appears to lack any idea of why he knows such things other than to spill them out like this.
Jazz, Moyer tells us, “is shielded from commercial failure by the American cultural-institutional complex, which hands out grants and degrees to people like me.”
I suspect he’s just playing dumb (though the act is convincing enough to make me wonder) when he leans on those old saws that say if jazz mattered it would sell more, and that institutional support of the arts equals public-assistance handouts.
Then again, employing that same logic, he could quit jumping on silly media bandwagons (and imploring others to do the same) during work hours and, well, go get a real job.
NEWSFLASH: Apparently, as I learned from Marc Myers’ blog, the Moyers column was indeed another case of “parody.” So said Moyers in two comments to his own piece. Apparently, parody now just means “to fake.” Or maybe these comments are fake, and Moyers is trying to wring another high-school laugh out of the whole thing. Maybe it’s not jazz that’s dead, it’s the the at of parody. Or maybe editors at the websites of mainstream publication should reject this stuff and leave the way clear for those with talent and dedication enough to pull off parody and commentary on the arts.