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AllenLowe

The Francis Davis Appreciation Thread

89 posts in this topic

Well, I don't care if anybody else wants to post here, but Francis has had more shit dumped on him on this site recently than just about anybody else. But, in reality, Francis is

1) one of the best and most knowledgeable writers on music and culture in the US of A

2) A nice guy, approachable and open, unlike a lot of other critics

in addition:

1) no animals were harmed in the publication of his latest book, and

2) the hell with Clementine

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Ok, but is he a genius?

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well, he's kind to old ladies and small animals -

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That's genial!

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I've never met Francis Davis, but I like his writing, read his stuff and find that the stuff he positvely reviews I generally like as well. I thought Matthew Shipp was terribly out of line in saying that Davis was racist back when Davis criticised many of the (largely black) "young lions" and praised many of the (largely white) "avant guard" of the day. I thought his correlation of trumpeters' styles with race was a reach and just unnecessary. (But then I don't like football writers talking about fast black receivers and slow white ones either.) And I thought Davis's description of Alan Shorter as "fucked up" in the VV recently was just plain mean. How about "troubled", "dogged by mental illness", etc.

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Plus Davis turned me on to Alan Lowe, who's "Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground" is a fine collection of recordings!!!

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Not weighing in good or bad here--haven't read much Davis at all, though I think I have used paperback copies of IN THE MOMENT and his blues book floating around the house somewhere--but whatever happened to his Coltrane biography? Still in progress?

Which gives me an idea for yet another thread...

Edited by ghost of miles

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OK, (deep breath),

Mark me down as, on the whole, a Davis appreciator. I agree with Peter when he says, "I like his writing, read his stuff and find that the stuff he positively reviews I generally like as well." (He turned me on to, among others, Walt Dickerson, Joel Forrester, Phillip Johnston, Anthony Cox, and Gianluigi Trovesi. Except I'll never understand why Davis likes Stephen Sondheim. Even so, I take him at his word and never thought he was PRETENDING to dig Sondheim.)

That being said, Davis's Free America Village Voice review did seem a bit, shall we say, peevish? Not cool calling Alan Shorter "fucked up." On the other hand, I take his dislike of Annette Peacock as a genuine esthetic quibble, rather than Clem's suggested misogynistic response. Davis has gone to bat for many a female artist that I, personally, don't like or have a hard time responding to. He's hardly a knee-jerk woman-hater. Chalk this review down to a bad day. It hardly invalidates the rest of his writing.

Clem's wringing Terry Gross into the argument strikes me as bogus. To grossly simplify, it seems as though he's claiming that Davis hates women because he's henpecked by a more successful, middlebrow hack of a cultural commentator, who just happens to be female. Who's more the mysogynist?

That being said, I would say that Davis' recent Village Voice pieces seem constrained by the stringent word-counts that this publication has (not alone) imposed of late. It's my understanding that Gary Giddins left the Voice, in part, owing to the shorter article lengths that the editors (or more accurately, owners) have imposed in the past few years. (And by the way, since Clem keeps hammering on the vast remuneration this gig entails, just how well do they pay? Anyone?)

Aside:

(I, myself, have been lucky enough to score several assignments from a major metropolitan newspaper in the last year. The powers that be at this 'paper have recently decided that reviews of one-night gigs should be no more than 350 words in length.

A recent concert that I reviewed was the 30th anniversary concert by a respected new music ensemble, The Dinosaur Annex, which was conducted by Gunther Schuller. I repeat: GUNTHER SCHULLER!

I had exactly 350 words to attempt to do justice to the TEN musicians, NINE composers, and SEVEN world premieres that were a part of this concert, NOT TO MENTION LIVING LEGEND GUNTHER SCHULLER. I did my best... but, REALLY!)

Back to the point:

OK, so Davis has a blind-spot regarding Beefheart. I bought the Fast 'N' Bulbous CD and find it to be a nice tribute to the Captain, but not ESSENTIALLY different from his own recordings. To Davis, on the other hand, it's superior to the old 'fheart's original recordings. So what. We all have our blindspots (Clearspots?). It's not as though other commentators haven't called BeefH an unsuccessful combo of Howlin' Wolf and Ornette*. That's not my take on it, but I understand how others, given the limited time we have on this earth, could maintain as much, looking from the outside in. I recall that Dave Marsh (who I generally dig) dismissed Pere Ubu as an unsuccessful attempt at Ornette-style rock (?), not to mention that he reviled Brian Eno as a blinkered elitist. (Eno, the guy who, admittedly elitist in his own way, helped bring both Talking Heads and U2 to their greatest top-40 successes.)

Well, enough rant. I actually enjoy and learn from Clem's postings, as abrasive as they (intentionally) may be, and I share many of his musical and literary tastes. But how long do you think Terry Gross would last if she had Thomas Bernhard as a guest on every show? (Even assuming that he wasn't dead already). Curtis White, a writer I admire and part of the Dalkey Archive axis that Clem seems to revere, has also attacked Gross. Well, yeah, maybe she's the Øprah of public broadcasting, but so what? Mass culture is mass culture. At least there's someone in there pitching for the middlebrows and above.

I'm sorry, but Thomas Bernhard and Albert Ayler, love them as much as I may, will never be media darlings. Yet it would be hard to say that they don't receive as much attention as they deserve, albeit at the fringes (If "the fringes" include major publications such as The Village Voice and The New York Review of Books, among others). Ask a 23-year-old if he or she has heard of Ayler or of Tina Brooks, or is acquainted with Bernhard or with Ronald Firbank. For my money, though most have heard of neither, more have heard of Ayler and Bernhard--MANY more. That's fashion for you.

The bottom line? As Peter wrote: "Plus Davis turned me on to Alan Lowe, whose "Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground" is a fine collection of recordings!!!" Agreed .

I saw Allen Lowe's band in the mid-1990s at the erstwhile Cambridge, Massachusetts venue called Nightstage, in support of his CD "A Modern Portrait of Louis Armstrong." And it was Francis Davis who got me interested enough to check out Lowe's ensemble in the flesh. In the band that night was ROSWELL RUDD, making his first Boston appearance in many a year. Davis and Lowe, I submit, inarguably helped spearhead Rudd's return to the jazz scene in the U.S.

For that alone we should thank the both of them.

*It's my opinion, and surely not mine alone, that folks who diss Beefheart's reed playing miss the point. He used the reeds as occasional color, rather than a focal point, akin to the way the AEC used their "little instruments." He's not presenting a romantic, heroic "jazz solo," so it's stupid to judge it as such, just as it's correct, but beside the point, to belittle the AEC as "percussionists" per se. Funnily enough, those who choose to foreground 'fheart's technique on reeds betray their own "avant" pretensions by foregrounding what was intended to be background.

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thanks, Kalo - almost forgot about that Nightstage gig - very poor turnout, but, oh, that was a good band - per Francis, the guy has written masterful essays on a number of things - I recommend the following (and, sorry, I don't have specific collected references for all here, but almost all, if not all, of these are in various books that have collated his stuff):

1. Frank Sinatra - great piece, captures the man's essence and complicated personality -

2) Johnny Cash - in Like Young -

3) Velvet Underground -also in Like Young -

4) Jazz of the 1970s - Smashes the Marsalis/Burns myth of the fallow period between the 1960s and the Lincoln Center Messiah - not sure where re-printed -

5) Wayne Shorter - great article, was in the Atlantic; not sure if collected yet -

6) Billie Holiday - another masterful Atlantic piece - look for it -

these are just the tip of the iceberg - I'm a little bit shocked, honestly, that there are not more Organissimo members, who consider themselves SERIOUS jazz people, familiar with Francis's work. It is one of the most important bodies of critical work in this field in the last 30 years - collections include: In the Moment, Outcats, Bebop and Nothingness, Like Young, Jazz and Its Discntents - read'em all and you will have learned a significant amount about this art form that you did not realize before -

and, by the way, calling Terry the Oprah of radio is just plain silly - she is one of the most intelligent and artful interviewers I have ever heard - plus she's never bought anyone in her audience a car -

and Alan Shorter WAS fucked up - with a capital F -

Edited by AllenLowe

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I've read In the Moment and Bebop and Nothingness--both excellent compilations of his work.

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That WAS a good band, Allen. I have fond memories of that show.

I'm sorry if I gave the impression of putting down Terry Gross. Actually, I would consider myself a fan. My point was simply that there wouldn't be a show at all if she only interviewed "outcats" and the like.

As for Davis, I have all of his books except the Kael interview. And I refer back to all of them fairly frequently (except the Blues one). I find him to be an excellent writer on the whole--I just think that the mingy amount of space he gets in the Voice is not his best forum. I read that rag less and less as they shrink down ALL of their reviewers' space. Has anyone noticed that they now banner an "Essay" in every issue, when it used to be that almost every article could be considered an essay?

So, as I said before, mark me down as a Davis (and Gross) appreciator.

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Personally, I think the whole "critique" of the middlebrow is nothing but self-congatulation. Go read the Curtis White piece here.

What's the big problem with Terry Gross? Well, no problem at all, as she gives White the opportunity to tell us how smart he is. And one imagines that opportunity doesn't arise nearly enough to suit Mr. White.

I read this sort of cultural criticism a fair deal, and I've yet to see the critique of the middlebrow that doesn't boil down to resentment of people getting to know stuff that ought to be learned only by hanging out in the author's kind of social cirlcle and learning the secret handshake.

I come from a very modest background. My father was thrown out of high school for being a wise-ass. He taught himself (and me) out of magazines anfd newspapers and reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. I myself have learned a lot from public radio, including Fresh Air. Part of the dividend of all that middlebrow learning is that I'm the first person in my family to graduate high school. I have a nice two-word answer for anyone's cavils about Fresh Air being middlebrow. Or anything else for that matter.

--eric

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Dr. Rat,

I basically agree with your critique of the "middlebrow critique." My (attempted) point was that despite my admiration for Curtis White's fiction, I thought his attack on Terry Gross was a silly exercise.

I guess I'll have to work on the clarity of my postings. (Or at least keep my rants to readable length.)

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hey Allen (no smiley)-- doesn't matter...

Well, I got that far...

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Dr. Rat,

I basically agree with your critique of the "middlebrow critique." My (attempted) point was that despite my admiration for Curtis White's fiction, I thought his attack on Terry Gross was a silly exercise.

I guess I'll have to work on the clarity of my postings. (Or at least keep my rants to readable length.)

Sorry, I wasn't so much replying to you as to White. He made me mad! Grrr.

Had no intention of jumping on you and your eminently reasonable post.

--eric

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For that matter, what's so wrong with Oprah?

I'm no fan, (I don't even watch TV), but she's far from the nadir of the medium with the likes of Pat O'Brien, etc., sullying our airwaves.

Damn, she gets people to read.

Read books.

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What I meant to say was: thanks Dr. Rat.

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By the way, just out of curiosity,

How fucked up WAS Alan Shorter?

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Kalo, you are making WAY too much sense for this place :)

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Or should I say, eric (?).

as you like, I suppose.

I kinda like having a persona (especially one that pays hommage to William Kotzwinkle), but I feel more honest making it fairly transparent.

Oh, call me rat, people have been calling me eric all my life. That and shithead.

--eric

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For that matter, what's so wrong with Oprah?

I'm no fan, (I don't even watch TV), but she's far from the nadir of the medium with the likes of Pat O'Brien, etc., sullying our airwaves.

Damn, she gets people to read.

Read books.

Exactly what I thought while glancing over this thread yesterday.

:tup to anybody who inspires a habitual afternoon-TV-watcher to check One Hundred Years of Solitude out of the library...

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[...] and, by the way, calling Terry the Oprah of radio is just plain silly - she is one of the most intelligent and artful interviewers I have ever heard - [...]

How many producers of the national media know who Dave Burrell is, let alone put him on the air for half an hour to talk and play? (He was on yesterday's Fresh Air.)

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