by carl wilson

Russell Hates Jazz (Whatever That Is)


My colleague Russell Smith in today's Globe & Mail:

"I hate jazz's saccharine breeziness, its conservative affection for jaunty ditties -- the same jaunty ditties, endlessly strung out and embroidered and doo-de-doo-doo-doo improvised ... my God, people say techno all sounds the same! Jazz means the Howard Johnson's piano bar, the lobby of Loblaws at Christmastime, it means electro-acoustic guitars and warbling organs and mellow marimbas and vibraphones, it means the smirky, bantering announcers of the seebeegoddamsee."

Russell goes on to say the only jazz he likes is Keith Jarrett, and concludes, with a dismissive aside about free jazz that proves Russell doesn't know anything about free jazz, that everything good about Keith Jarrett is due to his background in classical music.

None of this would be worth mentioning - Russell's not a music columnist but a quasi-celeb-writer columnist and is free to air his peeves - except as a demonstration of how deeply misconceptions about the very nature of jazz are becoming entrenched in the era of Krall and Norah Jones, even among people like Russell, who is fairly well informed about, say, contemporary composition and techno and even noise music. He sees no relationship between jazz - the most formally challenging and fast-advancing and ultimately modernist music of the 20th century - and any of the formal experiments he likes elsewhere in music. He happens to know about Keith Jarrett (due to various odd pop cultural accidents) but not about pianists such as Cecil Taylor or Alex von Schlippenbach or Matthew Shipp or Vijay Iyer, let alone Ornette Coleman or Peter Brotzmann or Anthony Braxton or John Zorn or Wadada Leo Smith (pictured). Russell refers to "jazz people" and their "faux-blackness," amazingly not even considering that jazz people may actually be black, but in Canada, frankly, where would be the current evidence to the contrary? You know the stuff he's talking about, I know the stuff he's talking about, and I hate it too. I just don't consider it the definition of jazz.

The jazz industry in its increasing museum mindedness, has abetted such misperceptions, and of course they've been endlessly bemoaned, debated and berated among jazz people, especially when the Ken Burns PBS Jazz series was on. But at this point I'm beginning to wonder whether our side has a prayer. Maybe we should just abandon the word jazz the way the indie kids abandoned 20hz when it was bought up by a nightclub profiteer - leave the leaky vessel of jazz for the cocktail singers to sail upon, and hoist up some new jolly roger so that regular intelligent people might actually cock an ear to the damn music rather than rule it out by reflex.

Of course I wish the Globe hadn't given Russell's ignorance on the subject such a prominent run today, but the symptom isn't the disease.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 09 at 04:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)



Sorry, he didn't "embarr" me, he embarrassed me.

Posted by Dean Vincent on June 16, 2005 06:51 PM



Anyway, believing the Globe's monday teaser, I was blissfully expecting the inclusion of some kind of rebuttal to Smith's first polemic in print, but today I was disabused of that pipe dream. Maybe I was blinded by the hope for something that I actually wanted to see; but...all for naught as it turns out. So not only has he yet again embarrased himslef, he embarred me as well. Instead, the G&M; editors, all deadlines and drink, product movement and pastiche, look on in silent cynical glee as a cutural mini-controversy foments before their bulging tie too tight eyes. But am I not now doing exactly what Smith did? Clever conceit in the place of any real or useful discourse? Smith has done this before. Do you remember his bitchy polemic on poetry readings a few months ago? Lord, instead of trashing the messenger, why can't this unnecessarily-reactionary (and talented) critic try to provide something entertaining and insightful on the actual content of Jazz or poetry? Maybe he has done this in the past for poetry, but it sure hasn't stuck with me. Forget him on Jarrett -- that seems to be a cut-and-paste intellectual "resume filler," a lazy, dishonest insertion designed to justify the credibility of the whole "Virtual Culture" enterprise. And I admit here I know nothing about Jarrett! I was further saddened when he "came out swinging" (not to be mistaken with a big band sound). Right off the top he personally insults the (unseen) rebuttors, and goes on to insult Canadian theatre, Snow, the CBC, etc. I must assume that he can afford the $6.99 or so to buy the classical music he demands, the price of many classical CDs to be found in the big box stores. A Jazz form he likes may be found for reasonable prices as well -- if he cares to look. And as for his (1st column) assertion that Jazz has nothing dark, mysterious, emotionally-engaging, and his current assertion that Jazz "for the most part" is "light and easy" is just impossible for me to understand and seemingly beneath contempt. This is the same as somebody asserting that poetry is all "Roses are Red." Holy Cow!

The Dean

Posted by Dean Vincent on June 16, 2005 06:49 PM



To judge by his latest missive Mr. Smith is no more than a misguided undergraduate level amateur who wields a moderate talent with the pen (or laptop). His breezy comments about COLTRANE and MILES tell me enough about his real distance from even coming close to getting it. It's kind of astounding really when one considers how simple it really is to get to know the basics of the music: pick up a few good books and some cds or have a friend recommend some Sonny Rollins just to get you started. ITS NOT THAT COMPLICATED TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DINNER MUSIC AND ALBERT AYLER!!!!

Posted by originalspin on June 16, 2005 02:44 PM



Grab the Globe on the 16th. Apparently he's getting his come-uppance. Trust me, I wanted to rant in but to e-mail the G&M; columnists, you have to pay to gain access. Am I wrong? Anyway, after about five minutes of prickly bemusement looking for his e-mail address, I calmed down. Suffice to say he embarrassed himself, as do, I believe, Jazz modernists (or traditionalists) who disparage the "other side." Even that is a generality. One simply can never use the word "ALL" to blanket criticize anything. Cole Porter, all those standards hateful, sentimental? This is the opinion of the so-called "tipping point" (Gladwell) mentality you see from psuedo-intellects and faux renaissance (wo)men. The art of the song (or story, painting, etc.) is in its telling, not the often quotidian or sentimental objects within its form. Russell should listen to "You're My Thrill" as sung by a close to death CHet Baker, or anyone for that matter.

Posted by Dean Vincent on June 15, 2005 05:30 PM



I sent something to the editors - doubt it will be published -

Posted by originalspin on June 12, 2005 03:59 PM



The sad news about this faux-critic and his writing is that the only rants I've read about it have been at this site.
Nothing in the letters to the editor etc.
Does this mean that the artical and it's author are inconsequential
to the general public and the musical comunity too ?

Posted by Roberto Occhipinti on June 11, 2005 03:56 PM



Like the woman who writes about what's wrong with feminism and signs it John, I really think this is all about ruffling feathers...The argument of this piece dies long before the Kieth Jarrett reference. This battle has been going on even before Miles Davis played his first concert with his back to the audience. Who cares. I'm going back to my basement to listen to Sun Ra...Is he even listed in the Encyclopedia of Jazz? Has anybody talked about the fact that Jarrett is just a Paul Bley rip off? I guess Russ missed a great Can Con opp there...dilettante indeed...hanging out with Leah wonderin how the other half are livin...

Posted by Phil on June 10, 2005 07:20 PM



Flashback to our conversation about that “no jazz” declaration on my party invite, huh? Remember how I had to explain that no, I didn’t mean Anthony Braxton, Borbetomagus, Sun Ra, Kirk, or Count Basie. I meant that other stuff.

This says to me, “new name time.” Jazz simply must have a punk rock style break from its own history. That should do away with any confusion caused by Norah Jones and Russell Smith alike.

Posted by Brian on June 10, 2005 07:20 PM



i love russell smith, even when he's wrong. and i love carl wilson, even when he's wrong! critics are forever missing pages from each other's dictionaries. move on.

Posted by spitzer on June 10, 2005 01:55 PM



I find it unconscionable that the Globe could publish such sophmoric ill-informed garbage. It's sad enough when people in positions of communicative power tackle subjects well beyond their grasp, it's even sadder when 100 years of a most dynamic art is reduced to the pathetic ramblings of a city-bound dilletante.

Posted by originalspin on June 10, 2005 06:27 AM



...who IS this weenie?...i mean, is this some kinda controversial bone thrown at the mallards of the 'jazziz' world to get pissed about ur what?....he's into kieth jarret, huh?...and he knows about noise, huh?...and which kieth jarret might that be, son?...i wonder if it's the clusters of acid kieth was throwing up outa that ring-mod-fueled fender rhodes he was forced to play when he was hot to play with miles (check out his interview on the 'electric miles/isle of wight dvd...a thoughtful, truthful man!).....not fukn likely? for that word 'jaz'...nobody with an ounce of historical/sociological/political conscience ever slept in the same bed with that epithet for more than it took to get was american, it was improvised and it was black,and it was given to us; but like all gifts it is up to the recipient to decide what to do with it...i personally revere it's geneological magnificence and treat it's over-arching spiritual lessons with a lot of respect, but the word is sometimes a corner for pimps...a new word? terms of mainstream culture the 'other' has always been unnameable and for good miles said '...words are used to sell things'...peaceout...nilan

Posted by nilan perera on June 9, 2005 11:45 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson