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The Mule

The latest Crouch controversy

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An interesting article. Some very good and, unfortunately, on the mark point made re white dominance in the jazz media. It reminds me of a call I received from New York's Channel 13 (PBS) around 1964, when I was general manager of WBAI.

"We need to borrow one of your Negroes," the man said.

I thought it was a put-on, but it wasn't. The station had arranged to interview H. Rap Brown, who would only allow himself to be interviewed by a black person, of which 13, apparently, had none.

I asked Charles Hobson if he wanted the job, and he jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, Channel 13 made up the questions, which were decidedly lacking in insight. After a few questions, Brown looked at poor Charlie and said something like, "What kind of shit is this, man?"

BTW Charles Hobson subsequently became a producer on Black Journal, and of the series From Jump Street.

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Do any of the critics quoted in the article not realize that it cost Jazz Times money to allow an entire page of their magazine to be devoted to Crouch's rantings? And if readers are turned off and cancel their subscription, it will cost them even more.

The decision was striclty an economic one - when the dust settles, people will realize that publishing his crap is just not cost-effective.

Sure, he has a right to say what he wants to say - it's a free country. But no for-profit enterprise is obliged to spend the money to publish it. It's his responsibility to find a venue for it. If a given outlet no longer chooses to serve as his mouthpiece, it's their right as well in a free country.

What's next - it's my obligation to let Crouch hold court every Sunday afternoon in my living-room? I think not.

By the way, a note to all critics: some of us don't actually need you to tell us what music we should like. That's what my ears and my brain are for. It's my responsibility as an educated consumer of jazz to do my research and go out and listen and decide for myself.

Bertrand.

Edited by bertrand

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A quote from the Village Voice article...

"I've asked people to name one black music critic at a major newspaper in the United States—The New York Times, [The Washington] Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune," says Baraka, "and somebody says Stanley Crouch. Well, that tells you something, and now that he's gone, that tells you more." The actual numbers seem to be tiny, but it goes to Baraka's point that neither the National Association of Black Journalists nor the American Society of Newspaper Editors collects statistics on the number of black critics. So the fact that JazzTimes approached Crouch and Baraka at all makes the magazine look open-minded. "And just because it didn't work out with Crouch and Baraka," says Porter, "it doesn't mean we will stop reaching out to black writers—or any group that is under-represented in jazz journalism."

Well, one of the better jazz critics I know of (White or Black), happens to be Black. Calvin Wilson, currently at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He used to be at the Kansas City Star, for several years. He was here when I moved to Kansas City in 1994, and left for the Post in St. Louis in the late 90's. Here's a random sample of his writing...

[*]Search for "calvin wilson jazz" at the St. Louis Post Dispatch website.

[*]Search for just "calvin wilson" at the St. Louis Post Dispatch website (returns a bunch of other entertainment articles he's written, including a bunch of movie reviews).

I haven't prescreened any of these (the results of the searches above), and to be honest, until just now I hadn't seen any of his work since he left K.C. in the late 90's. But I always found his work in the Kansas City Star to be notable, even his movie reviews. And I'd probably subscribe to any jazz magazine that gave him a regular column, even on the strength of just his writing skills alone.

Also, here's an interview with Calvin Wilson, from 1997 - that he did with the local Kansas City jazz rag. I'd forgotten until just now that Wilson left K.C. for a year then, to attend the year-long "National Arts Journalism Program Fellowship" at Columbia University.

And, here's what appears to be a superb essay Wilson wrote, called KIND OF BLUE - Some Thoughts on Music, Culture, and Class. (I'm only just skimming it now, but it looks good on first glace.)

Wilson's got strong opinions, and isn't afraid to take positions on things. But he isn't as inflamitory as Crouch - though who is???

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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I don't know who's there now, but 30 years ago, the Washington Post had a black jazz writer, Hollie West.

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If the Washington Post has a regular jazz music critic, I'm not aware of it. By this I mean it seems that they have a few people who review a wide variety of genres of music -- Mark Jenkins comes to mind, and I know he used to be heavily into the harDCore punk scene years ago.

I just got Jazz Times yesterday and read about his firing by the magazine. I think they went out of their way to even continue to publish Crouch's opinions. I am not surprised that they decided not to continue printing his articles.

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By the way, the Dave Douglas thing was *not* his last 'piece' for Jazz Times - it was a praise of pianist Eric Reed. That's a no-brainer - Eric is indeed a fine player. Perhaps he realized he had gone over the top and tried to tone down the rhetoric a notch or ten. But it was too late.

I applaud Jazz Times for their decision. Life's too short to waste on people like Crouch. I have enough assholes of his ilk to deal with at work.

Oops, here comes one now...

Bertrand.

Edited by bertrand

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I applaud Jazz Times for their decision. Life's too short to waste on people like Crouch. I have enough assholes of his ilk to deal with at work.

Oops, here comes one now...

Jeez, I wish I hadn't looked now... <_<

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The Problem With Jazz Criticism

A noted critic and social commentator on why he was let go by the JazzTimes

By Stanley Crouch

NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE

  • June 5 --
Today's jazz criticism always encourages one kind of diversity or another, that is, except when it comes to differences of opinion. It supports the idea of individual direction unless that direction provides another point of view on what is valuable in the art, what its definition is, and which of today's musicians should be celebrated.

THERE IS such consistency in the jazz press, and its predilections, that it represents a virtual conspiracy--not one that includes clandestine meetings or muttering in code--but a conspiracy of consensus based in modernist European ideas of avant gardism. It's stapled to concepts that Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg pushed into the art world during the 1940s and 1950s, championing the narrows of Abstract Expressionism as "advanced" because they ignored the body of basic classical skills in the interest of autobiographical methods devised by the painters themselves. But right now, while mouthing those theories, jazz criticism is actually dominated by an adolescent vision of rebellion that arrives from the world of pop music, rock in particular.

That is why I was fired last month from JazzTimes, the most-widely read jazz magazine in the country, despite the editors saying otherwise. (They said it had "become tedious," that they could no longer ignore my "conflicts of interest," my "missed deadlines," or my "belligerence and vitriol.") I opposed the code of the jazz establishment, itself a union of white people who, while not at all card-carrying racists, express what amounts to a backlash against all ongoing discussions of supposed black superiority and aesthetic ownership in the world of jazz. The result is the elevation of white jazz musicians above their black betters, or even above their white betters if those white betters do not fit into a conception of "pushing the envelope." Where things become complicated, however, is that black musicians are embraced if they have voluntarily enlisted in the army that takes to heart what Rimbaud called "the love of sacrilege." This perfectly aligns with the pop world, where almost all acts are presented as rebellious. The marketing tool of the corporations--the elevation of novelty--dominates jazz criticism, which is why a trio like the Bad Plus, as well as anyone who works with hip-hop materials is praised. Let us rebel against convention by submitting to convention.

Before I was fired from JazzTimes, by e-mail, I was pursued by Glenn Sabin, the CEO of the magazine, for a number of years. I turned him down, feeling that my position as a founder and an adviser to Jazz at Lincoln Center (and a friend and occasional colleague of Wynton Marsalis) would lead to dismissals of anything that I wrote, even though the column was supposed to be given to my opinions, which is something quite different from writing record reviews or some such.

When I finally began writing a column for the magazine about a year ago, the editors were well aware of the fact that I did not buy into the vision of the jazz critical establishment. They claimed to have been interested in me for those reasons, assuring me that it would be good to have me 'mix it up," as the saying goes. I had by then grown tired of an establishment that pretended to be at war with an establishment. I did not buy the idea that there was no definition whatsoever of jazz and that any attempt to define jazz was an attempt to "put it in a box," an idea that had come into jazz from two directions.

One direction comes from musicians of the 1960s, who considered themselves avant garde and had rejected the word jazz in favor of "black music" or "creative music." When they found no takers for their wares, they angrily returned to the world of jazz--which most of them couldn't play!--and were eventually embraced by jazz critics who are, for various reasons, obsessed with exclusion and have grafted ideas about cultural relativism into the world of criticism. They love to assert, over and over, that everything is relative and jazz is whatever you choose to call it. Otherwise, they argue, you speak for an establishment trying to keep a variety of jazz musicians from receiving respect. The other direction for this thinking comes from the period in which Miles Davis and a number of first-class jazz musicians sold out to rock and produced what was eventually called "fusion," jazz-tinged improvisation over stiff, rock beats that did not swing. The result today is the instrumental pop music known as "smooth jazz."

I bought none of that. Jazz has a very solid base of Afro-American fundamentals that exclude no one of talent, regardless of color, anymore than the Italian and German fundamentals of opera do. These fundamentals remained in place from the music's beginnings in New Orleans to, literally, yesterday. Those fundamentals are 4/4 swing (or swing in any meter), blues, the romantic or meditative ballad, and what Jelly Roll Morton called "the Spanish tinge," meaning Latin rhythms. All major directions in jazz have resulted from reimagining those fundamentals, not avoiding them.

Taking such positions occasioned much heated mail to JazzTimes in which I was accused of everything from provincialism and nostalgia to being a racist, which should not have surprised me since my criticism of various established Negroes over the years has been interpreted as the boot-licking of an Uncle Tom neoconservative. In keeping with the latter identity, my JazzTimes writing also attacked the ganster-rap wing of hip-hop for reiterating a kind of minstrelsy in which black youth was defined as truly "authentic" in the most illiterate, vulgar, anarchic and ignorant manifestations. I concluded that such material was popular among whites because such "authentic" Negroes, however hip-hopped up, were aggressively reinstituting the folklore of white supremacy since such black people were surely inferior to those outside of their world.

Since all of my opinions went against the consensus and called out the racial politics, I was fired, more for the first problem, which was questioning an establishment that pretends it does not exist. An e-mail for in-house perusal but mistakenly sent to me by the president of JazzTimes talks of "industry" pressure to remove me, which was later denied publicly. The public explanation, however, claims that my material was too predictably full of diatribes and promotion of my friends. Covering the controversy that arose following my firing, Adam Shatz wrote in The Nation that if JazzTimes applied such standards across the board the magazine would immediately have to cease publication. Shatz also claimed that a heated argument over definition is going on in the world of jazz criticism. An interesting observation. As the single voice of diversity in a world opposed to serious debate, I would like him to show me where it exists.

And here is Jazz Times' response to the Newsweek article:

  • "The Problem With Jazz Criticism" by Stanley Crouch, published online by Newsweek on June 5, 2003, is filled with misleading paragraphs and outright lies as to why JazzTimes ended his column, "Jazz Alone." Let's begin with this quote from Crouch: "I was pursued by Glenn Sabin, the CEO of the magazine, for a number of years. I turned him down, feeling that my position as a founder and an adviser to Jazz at Lincoln Center (and a friend and occasional colleague of Wynton Marsalis) would lead to dismissals of anything that I wrote...." It is true that Sabin did pursue Crouch for a column, but in no way did Crouch turn him down because of being worried about conflicts of interest with Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, as you will soon see. That's a complete fabrication. In fact, Crouch agreed to write our back-page column in 1998, but for months and months he never turned in a single article--meaning his history of missed deadlines with JazzTimes extends to his very first assignment with the magazine. Crouch's usual excuses followed as to why he hadn't been able to turn in his first column, but after waiting many months the magazine finally gave up and turned over its much-coveted back-page space to Nat Hentoff (who has never been late once).

    Even after hiring Hentoff, Sabin pursued Crouch from time to time over the years, and vice-versa, about doing the column again, but Crouch wouldn't budge unless he was given the back page. Sorry, but he had blown it once, and we weren't going to remove Hentoff. After the September 11 attacks happened, Crouch wrote Sabin to see if he would still be interested in running a column. Crouch claimed that he was shaken by the events in New York City, and he felt a need to reconnect with his jazz writing; the fact that we couldn't offer the back page did not matter to him anymore. He had things to say, and he wanted JazzTimes to be the place to say them. Too bad, then, that from the beginning Crouch fell into his old ways: missing deadlines and turning in sloppy, rambling columns. We stuck with him for as long as we could, but after more than a year of battling with him over basic journalistic principles--missing deadlines, conflicts of interest, turning in clean copy--we opted to end his column.

    Here's another twisted version of the truth from Crouch: "Since all of my opinions went against the consensus and called out the racial politics, I was fired, more for the first problem, which was questioning an establishment that pretends it does not exist. An e-mail for in-house perusal but mistakenly sent to me by the president of JazzTimes talks of 'industry' pressure to remove me, which was later denied publicly. The public explanation, however, claims that my material was too predictably full of diatribes and promotion of my friends." Why doesn't Crouch just quote from this e-mail if it's such a smoking gun? Here's the exact sentence he's referring to from Sabin's e-mail: "The 'we' you refer to was the editor, publisher and to a large extent many readers and industry folks who felt you were 'over the top' in your editorials." What Sabin was responding to was Crouch's question about who the "we" was in the e-mail saying we--the publisher and the editor--were ending his column. What Sabin is referring to, when he mentions "readers and industry folks," is our letters page, which was filled, month after month, with readers wondering why we were wasting space on running the ad hominem attacks that had come to characterize Crouch's JazzTimes column. Not a single advertiser ever threatened to pull an ad because of Crouch's column, so those charges or implications are wholly bogus. After we sent an e-mail to Crouch saying that JazzTimes was ending "Jazz Alone" because it had run its course, he fired back a vitriolic response that lumped us in with a white critical establishment that he sees is intent on promoting less-deserving white musicians over more-talented black players. He included this conspiracy theory in his missive: "...if you pretend that there is no critical establishment, read the New York Times, Down Beat, the Village Voice, and JazzTimes. All celebrate the same people. I wonder how that happens? It couldn't be that they know each other and make decisions over the telephone, could it? I'm [sic] know that you know." This follows a comment he made in the Atlantic Monthly recently about white critics disliking Wynton Marsalis because he "has had access to a far higher quality of female than any of them could ever imagine." Crouch is certainly entitled to his opinions, even if they are laughably stupid. Also, for the record, Crouch's last column was on Eric Reed in May 2003, not his now-infamous "Putting the White Man in Charge" from April 2003. This fact has been misrepresented in the media several times. Again, we ended "Jazz Alone" because we decided the column had become tedious, because Crouch missed nearly every deadline by a country mile while making grade-school excuses as to why and because we could no longer ignore his deep conflicts of interest. For example, the "White Man" column was really just a thinly veiled attack on those who had criticized Wynton Marsalis and his associates, nothing more. The column was originally scheduled for the January/February 2003 issue, but it did not run until April 2003 because Crouch missed all his rewrite deadlines. When he finally did turn in his rewrite, he kept trying to position Marsalis into the column, going on about the greatness of the trumpeter's All Rise CD (for which Crouch wrote the liner notes). Since Crouch has worked for and with Marsalis for years, making many thousands of dollars in the process--hardly the type of relationship that lends itself to Crouch's characterization of himself and Marsalis as "occasional colleagues"--it was a blatant conflict of interest. And holding up Marsalis as the be all, end all as Crouch viciously tore down other players would completely undercut his argument, which we considered an important one worth investigating: that white critics elevate white players over some black players because of skin color. We asked Crouch not to focus on Marsalis and, if this problem was as prevalent as he believed, to choose other musicians to prove his point. Crouch would hear none of it. In a December 12, 2002, e-mail, Crouch writes, "I am not worried about 'undercutting' my argument. Marsalis IS the problem to these white men and, as you will see in my next column, their hatred of him has also led to their ignoring the contributions of musicians associated with him." "Jazz Alone" had become nothing more than a sounding board for Crouch to attack those he felt had wronged him, Wynton Marsalis or their associates. That doesn't make for an interesting column over the long haul, which is why we told Crouch "Jazz Alone" had run its course; we never said he couldn't write for the magazine again, even though he has proven near-impossible to work with (ask his former Village Voice colleague Harry Allen, or Jazz Journalists Association president Howard Mandel, both of whom Crouch has punched over disagreements). Instead, Crouch started up a smear campaign toward us when we ended his column, running to every media outlet he could find to plead his case--even if it meant skewing the facts. If the divorce between Crouch and JazzTimes is so important, it's too bad that more of these media outlets didn't see fit to write balanced news reports about these events instead of letting one side b lather on in opinion pieces, regardless of whether or not his facts are correct. Anyone who still thinks that what Crouch wrote in that one column was the cause of his "firing" (we ended a freelancer's column, just as we've ended columns by Ira Gitler and Martin Williams in the past) is just plain wrong. Our history proves that we've never strayed from covering sensitive racial or social topics, and we will never stray--and we will continue addressing these topics with intelligence and grace, rather than with the mindless vitriol that has characterized Crouch's career.

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So after reading all that I've determined that our next Organissimo record is not going to feature our pictures on it anywhere. And I think I'll make my stage name Alfred James. That way it might sound like I'm black. Because Lord knows, white people can't play jazz.

What the fuck are these assholes talking about?! Bix Biederbecke anyone? Bill Evans? Joe Lovano? They can't play? I'm tired of hearing this shit. Listen to the motherfucking music, dipshit. It's reverse racism, pure and simple.

And what is Stanley talking about re: hip hop? Is he actually saying hip hop doesn't swing? Man, listen to the beats they're using. That shit swings like hell!!! Anyone who can't feel that has a concrete heart.

It's true a lot of white musicians have been elevated in the past decade. But why is that? Could it be that there are not a whole lot of black musicians coming into jazz? How many jazz concerts have you been to lately where the audience isn't predominately white? Black culture as a whole has moved on to other forms of music. How many young black organists are there today? How many white ones? Why is that?

All of this shit just further segregates people. Fuck them all. Muisicans have no problem with race, age, gender, sexual preference, whatever. At least not the ones I associate with. It seems to be just the critics.

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It seems that Crouch is riding the coattails of all people who really are suffering from racism. Playing the race card like flag waving and religion can be the last refuge of a scoundrel.Simply stated Stanley is extremely narrow minded,a reactionary and a crashing bore.

Edited by chris olivarez

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Thanks for posting those two, Chris.

Even if Jazz Times' arguments are self-serving, Crouch can be judged on his own words. Very revealing. What a creep.

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An interesting article. Some very good and, unfortunately, on the mark point made re white dominance in the jazz media. It reminds me of a call I received from New York's Channel 13 (PBS) around 1964, when I was general manager of WBAI.

"We need to borrow one of your Negroes," the man said.

I thought it was a put-on, but it wasn't. The station had arranged to interview H. Rap Brown, who would only allow himself to be interviewed by a black person, of which 13, apparently, had none.

I asked Charles Hobson if he wanted the job, and he jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, Channel 13 made up the questions, which were decidedly lacking in insight. After a few questions, Brown looked at poor Charlie and said something like, "What kind of shit is this, man?"

BTW Charles Hobson subsequently became a producer on Black Journal, and of the series From Jump Street.

So...what happened to that fellow H. Rap Brown, anyway? :rolleyes:

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So after reading all that I've determined that our next Organissimo record is not going to feature our pictures on it anywhere. And I think I'll make my stage name Alfred James. That way it might sound like I'm black. Because Lord knows, white people can't play jazz.

What the fuck are these assholes talking about?! Bix Biederbecke anyone? Bill Evans? Joe Lovano? They can't play? I'm tired of hearing this shit. Listen to the motherfucking music, dipshit. It's reverse racism, pure and simple.

And what is Stanley talking about re: hip hop? Is he actually saying hip hop doesn't swing? Man, listen to the beats they're using. That shit swings like hell!!! Anyone who can't feel that has a concrete heart.

It's true a lot of white musicians have been elevated in the past decade. But why is that? Could it be that there are not a whole lot of black musicians coming into jazz? How many jazz concerts have you been to lately where the audience isn't predominately white? Black culture as a whole has moved on to other forms of music. How many young black organists are there today? How many white ones? Why is that?

All of this shit just further segregates people. Fuck them all. Muisicans have no problem with race, age, gender, sexual preference, whatever. At least not the ones I associate with. It seems to be just the critics.

Well put b3-er! I see no good that can be accomplished from trying to denigrate musicians because of their skin color..Who cares what the skin pigment of a trumpet player looks like? Does anyone choose the cds the play/purchase based on the skin colors of the artists? If there are any, they are quite few and far between...All God's Chillun Got Rhythm! B)

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So...what happened to that fellow H. Rap Brown, anyway? :rolleyes:

Basically, he put on a turban, changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, shot a sheriff's deputy, and landed in jail for life.

image503686l.jpg

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The followup in the Jazz Times letters section makes for a clear case of why they let Crouch go. I'm surprised they kept him on for so long, given his lack of meeting deadlines and such. There's no excuse for not being professional, no matter who you are. Missing deadlines consistently isn't accepted at any level, from school to the business world. And for Crouch to fire back the way he has -- unacceptable.

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If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem .... Now Crouch was a very big part of the problems he described! :rmad::rhappy: :rsly:

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Controversies aside. I've just never found Crouch's Jazztimes columns very interesting. But then again Nat Hentoff's are a snooze to me as well. I'm not sure what modern critic I think has very insightful commentary.

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"The critics? Who needs 'em?

Who - I wonder - reads 'em?

Besides us ...."

words by Iola Brubeck, sung by Carmen McRae in "Good Reviews", part of Dave Brubeck's "The Real Ambassadors" (these are, of course, the musicians!).

To me, this remains the ultimate word on critics. In the long run, they are superfluous.

I write CD and book reviews, between 5 and 10 each year, for the newsletter of Germany's association of percussionists, and most of the stuff I'm sent is not my taste, but I always try to hold my resentiments back in favor of the musicians' goals and achievements. Crouch considers race matters to important because they are important to him. I'll never forget that blindfold test with Roy Eldridge after he had assured he could always tell white from black musicians, and he missed about half of them and admitted you simply can't tell by ear.

Journalists are in a position that implies constant justification of their own existence. Musicians do not need anything like that; their music is reason for being. Music is there for its own sake, in the first place, and as am expression of one's culture it can bear aspects of a political/social statement: you are what you preach. And so you don't need a spokesman like Crouch. I remember he wrote some insightful liner notes several years ago, I'd have to search them. But I generally disapprove of liners or articles which are basically just lobbying for a certain group or musician. Music journalism should operate beyond simple matters of taste. And Crouch's personal assaults certainly are beyond taste. :angry:

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Crouch exhibits a number of problems. The first of these, for me, is that he's not honest. Whenever I read his stuff, listen to his style rather in the way one might listen to a musician's sound, I get the sense of a man who can't believe he's got away with it and always expects to be called. The there's the question of writing out an agenda. Crouch is probably the worst example of this in Jazz. Everything is tendencious. On top of that is his liking for the race card, which he plays with monotonous regularity.

Apart from that, I don't like his politics, find his style obnoxious and overblown, dislike the way he picks fights and think he's a bully. He's also very full of himself, likes to go on about fake musicians who can't play their instrument when he himself was that.

In general I think he's an intellectual thug.

Simon Weil

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Crouch has always struck me as one who doesn't have much to say about the music. Just the political, racial and social aspects of it. And in the end, those are aspects I don't care that much about. I just want to listen and share in the joy of it all. That's what Crouch seems to lack that other critics have in abundance. Joy.

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Nice article, Alexander. But Jazz Times has claimed it wasn't that article that was grounds for the firing; it was the "conflict of interest" from a previous article that involved (or tried to involve) Wynton Marselis. Sure, it could be their excuse.

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Nice article, Alexander. But Jazz Times has claimed it wasn't that article that was grounds for the firing; it was the "conflict of interest" from a previous article that involved (or tried to involve) Wynton Marselis. Sure, it could be their excuse.

The "conflict of interest" was evident in publishing the "white men in charge" column itself, according to JT. They say Crouch wanted to say directly that the "establishment" put a man like Douglas above Marsalis because of racial agenda and professional jealousy, among other reasons. The editor was eventually able to persuade Crouch into removing the Marsalis references from the column.

I don't think praising Eric Reed in his next and final column had anything to do with the dismissal of Crouch.

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Crouch's complaining about white guys elevating Douglas over Marsailis would carry a lot more credence with me if not for the fact that it was white guys who put Wynton "in charge" too.

As usual, the guy has a valid point (anybody besides me remember how Larry Coryell seemed to systematically make the cover of Down Beat way, WAY past the time where he was of interest to ANYBODY?), but having a valid point means nothing if you don't apply it in a relevant manner.

Somebody should tell Stanley about the Internet, hip him to the fact that for not very much money he can have a website where he can write whatever he wants anytime he wants and not have to be concerned with things like publication circulation, pesky editors, or even white folks wanting to be in charge. A supremely Garveyesque notion!

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