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Larry Kart

Ratliff's "Coltrane"

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Were you ever able to hear that alleged influence? Are you sure it wasn't Coltrane's much hyped "spirituality" that influenced them?

I certainly hear it in the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" and "I See You" and "Why". Clearly, McGuinn was listening to "India" and "Afro Blue" and "Miles Mode" and "The Promise". Hard to say in terms of the Airplane. I can't say that I hear Ravi Shankar or Miles Davis in the Jefferson Airplane either, especially considering that the major body of the Airplane's work was prior to 'In a Silent Way'. You can probably pick some of these influences out best on some of the passages on 'After Bathing at Baxters'. This is where it gets really messy, of course, with middlemen like John Handy and Charles Lloyd being influenced by Coltrane and then influencing the SF rock groups they're sharing Fillmore or Avalon or Golden Gate Park stages with, etc.

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Check out the following customer review of Ratliff's book from Amazon.com.

It seems that Ratliff's found his ideal reader. There's a howler per sentence in this baby...

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

Trane Dissected, October 7, 2007

By Herbert L Calhoun "paulocal" (Falls Church, VA USA) - See all my reviews

Here the music of John Coltrane, arguably one of America's most important 20th Century Artists, has been laid bare on the musical autopsy table by a seasoned and confident art and Jazz critique, Ben Ratliff.

To those of us from the 1960s, whose intellect and artistic sensibilities were being constantly challenged -- even assaulted -- by a need to understand Coltrane's music, this is a welcomed contribution to the history of Jazz and to a better understanding of the music theory behind post-modern Jazz music and its familiar compositions. Using a dialect that fuses the vernacular of bebop with his own rich self-invented language of the art critic, Ratliff wields a deft scalpel in this his own self-styled musical autopsy room.

In part one of this two-part dissection laboratory, Raliff examines Coltrane's music using dense, sometimes even layered and often deeply intellectual language and analysis borrowed from music theory, excerpted from the tapes of live Jazz presentations, and from the "head sessions' of many famous Jazz musician's practice sessions. He does so with great erudition but without over-hyping or being pretentious, boring or pedantic.

Ratliff situates Coltrane's development as a musician and as a person in the context of a politically and socially hectic, but artistically rich and fertile, time. For instance:

He points out that Bebop was a new language of blues-based modernism, developed in NY in the early 40s by Charley Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and associated with fast tempos, asymmetrical melodic lines, and chord harmonies inspired by Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bartok. Ratliff explains Parker's eureka moment as being when he used the higher interval of a chord as a melody line and backed them up with appropriately related changes - only then could he play everything he had been hearing. He explains too how the two giants of the post-Charley Parker era, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, "separately colonized the post-Parker universe."

With great precision and an innate sensitivity to what is important, he explains Coltrane's idea of sheets of sound as being similar to the sketching of a "thin-pointed pen" versus that of a "paint-roller" -- both tracing out the same melodies. Or, as Coltrane challenged Wayne Shorter to do: "play all the sounds you can hear emanating from the "dronggg" caused by dropping a forearm across the piano keys.

Part I covers Coltrane's graduate degrees in advance music theory from both Miles Davis and his apprenticeship under Theolonius Monk; his brief stint with the master of the Avant-Garde, Ornette Coleman; and the expansive musical developments and interpretations he acquired from associations with Sun Ra, Rav Shankar, and many others. Coltrane's language on the saxophone was the language of sophistication. He played lavishly around, behind, above and outside simple changes; and he did so with great depth, stamina, fervor, and tenderness. In what is not an altogether apocryphal story, Raliff relates a tale that Coltrane, toward the end of his life, simply ran out of things that could be played on the saxophone, and out of new musical forms that could be explored.

In part two, the author gives a rich sample of comments, commentaries and critiques of those who studied, or studied with, or were affected by Coltrane's persona and music. These are well-selected comments and critiques designed to reveal even more about the artist and his music; and they do. A great part of section two draws on the rich history of Jazz and the subtext is devoted to understanding the context in which Coltrane existed both musically and socially. As the author points out, no one can understand John Coltrane without understanding that he was obsessed by, and obsessed with, musical sound, and by the demands he placed on himself in his quest for the perfect sound. Coltrane was about three things: Sound, sound, and more sound. For instance, even at their least inhibited, Coltrane's solos still show stamina that comes from difficult, almost demonic, obsessive and solitary practicing; they are derived from a deep and profound knowledge of the intricacies of music theory, and as always, his music is immensely and intricately "worked out music" in search of "the ultimate sound."

Like all great artists, Coltrane altered the lives of those he touched and of those who emulated him. They ceased to see Jazz as an exercise book, or a record collection but as an art form of open-ended possibilities. This is a fine piece of Jazz historical writing that will endure. Five Stars.

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:bad:

Too bad you couldn't insert the link to that guy's other reviews - I bet there are many more howlers therein.

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Even Ratliff should be embarrassed by that review.

There are people who seem to spend every waking hour writing a "review" for Amazon, and it is often painfully obvious that they have neither read the book nor developed a grasp of the subject matter.

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Even Ratliff should be embarrassed by that review.

There are people who seem to spend every waking hour writing a "review" for Amazon, and it is often painfully obvious that they have neither read the book nor developed a grasp of the subject matter.

And yet others on Amazon reading it have found it helpful. I think the guy clearly has read the book in this case, though I also often see cases where people haven't read/heard/seen what they are reviewing. The Philadelphia Inquirer gave an ecstatic review of the Ratliff book, touting it as a landmark work. It makes me wonder if the maybe the book has great value for a certain audience, and we're not that audience, that we're beyond needing this book to better understand Coltrane in context , but the other 99.99% of the population can benefit from the book. Just a thought. I haven't read the book, but actually wouldn't mind doing so if I ever came across it cheap in a remainder pile or at the library. As far as some of the factual errors, they happen even if the writer knows better. Some of my job involves Technical Writing, and I can't believe some of the stuff I miss in my own writing. I would bet 10-1 that Ratliff knew Hartman was a baritone and just wrote it wrong, and the proofreaders (if there were any) were the ones who didn't know better. I don't read Gary Giddins or Francis Davis or Ralph Gleason or a lot of those guys anymore, but there was a time I did and benefitted from doing so. They have their place, even if their place isn't in our little Organissimo community.

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I gotta send that guy my book -

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Well, I did read it, and the mistakes were more of a distraction. He sees Coltrane's great quartet as an ideal that was unbalanced by the presence of Eric Dolphy (and stood by that in our interview). Then, reading the Konitz book last night, came across this by Gunther Schuller (pg. 176): "John Coltrane is overcelebrated, Eric Dolphy is forgotten. I can't explain this really -- it's just idiotic."

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Even Ratliff should be embarrassed by that review.

There are people who seem to spend every waking hour writing a "review" for Amazon, and it is often painfully obvious that they have neither read the book nor developed a grasp of the subject matter.

Yep. Web 2.0 can swivel, Organissimo notwithstanding.

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Well, I did read it, and the mistakes were more of a distraction. He sees Coltrane's great quartet as an ideal that was unbalanced by the presence of Eric Dolphy (and stood by that in our interview). Then, reading the Konitz book last night, came across this by Gunther Schuller (pg. 176): "John Coltrane is overcelebrated, Eric Dolphy is forgotten. I can't explain this really -- it's just idiotic."

How is Eric Dolphy "forgotten"? It feels like every note of his ever captured by an amateur tape recorder has been put out on CD, including too many that shouldn't have been. How many "forgotten" artists would have something the like of 'Other Aspects' released? Or a nine CD set of their complete Prestige recordings. If ever a set of recordings should have stayed in the can, it's those two long cuts on 'Other Aspects'. Judging by his reported difficulty finding work in NYC in the 60's, it seems like he must be much more revered now than he was then in some ways. Schuller isn't likely going to be the most objective judge of this. And, to be honest, I've never been convinced that Coltrane and Dolphy were always the best things for each other's music, although "Spiritual" is magnificent, as are the Dolphy arrangements on 'Africa/Brass'. But too often to me, the other recordings feel like Dolphy had to bend too much to fit into what Coltrane was doing ("My Favorite Things"), or just spend a lot of time laying out (the Village Vanguard stuff). What I have trouble imagining is what it sounded like with Wes Montgomery in the mix! Now that I would pay to hear someone's bad bootleg of.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/books/re...amp;oref=slogin

October 28, 2007

Music Issue

Favorite Things

By PANKAJ MISHRA

COLTRANE

The Story of a Sound.

By Ben Ratliff.

250 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.

I regret Coltrane’s death,” the English poet Philip Larkin wrote in 1967, “as I regret the death of any man, but I can’t conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence.” In his last years, John Coltrane, who began his career with a Navy band, had moved through modal improvising to what the New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, in this engaging study of the jazz saxophonist’s artistic influence, calls the “music of meditation and chant.” Coltrane would often discard the principle of harmony in order to produce a trancelike effect on his audience; his later compositions recall the scalar complexity of North Indian classical music more than anything in the Western tradition. But they didn’t impress Larkin, who reviewed jazz records from 1961 to 1971 for The Daily Telegraph and could barely tolerate even Coltrane’s most accessible late music, like the devotional suite “A Love Supreme.”

Entranced in his youth by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Fats Waller, Larkin believed jazz had lost its ability to give pleasure by going “modern” — a word that, for him, usually signaled extreme pretentiousness and boredom. Jazz performers, he asserted, had no business embracing (as Coltrane did) Indian, African and Latin music. Grumpily counter-countercultural as the 1960s progressed — he didn’t have much time for Bob Dylan either — Larkin became convinced that everything that had gone wrong with jazz reached its grim apotheosis with Coltrane, who offered “squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” Collecting his jazz reviews in 1970, Larkin asserted that “it was with Coltrane that jazz started to be ugly on purpose.”

One can only wonder what Larkin would have made of the African Orthodox Church of St. John Coltrane, established the next year in San Francisco. Coltrane’s last years (during which he pursued new musical styles with the intensity and purity of an ascetic) and his early death (in 1967, when he was only 40) ensured his canonization. Still, it’s surprising to learn that Coltrane, as Ratliff claims, “has been more widely imitated in jazz over the last 50 years than any other figure” and that his recordings, “particularly from 1961 to 1964,” sound “like the thing we know as modern jazz, just the way that Stravinsky sounds like the thing we know as modern classical music.”

How did this happen? Afflicted with the modernist longing to make it new, Coltrane read widely, from Aristotle to Krishnamurti, and borrowed from ancient Indian ragas as well as Western atonal music. But he was reticent about analyzing his own work. His occasional attempts to explain it were tinged with the self-regard and sententiousness commonplace among many artists in the 1950s and ’60s who, like Coltrane, almost lost themselves to drugs and alcohol before finding religion. Ratliff patiently explicates Coltrane’s legend, writing in short, aphoristic bursts, often as elliptically as his subject played tenor saxophone, but never less than lucidly.

Coltrane’s reputation, which traveled as far as Carlos Santana and Iggy Pop, turns out to be easier to explain than his intentions and motivations. He played both tenor and soprano saxophone with a highly individual big-toned sound; he was always likely to exert as much influence on later generations as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young had on him. Then, too, his improvisational style, which often allowed him to endlessly play predetermined chord sequences, was a boon to less talented performers. As Ratliff points out, in one of his book’s many clearsighted moments, “lots of musicians” could adopt Coltrane’s modal playing, especially in a minor pentatonic scale, and “sound good.”

Ratliff succeeds in rescuing Coltrane from adherents who disregard his strenuous work ethic (even his endless and apparently aimless solos were carefully rehearsed) but adopt the easiest bits of his legacy — the yowling and shrieking. And he’s gently skeptical about Coltrane’s ambition to turn jazz into a bridge to the divine. (It seems clear that program music, however sincerely motivated, can mean anything to the listener when Ratliff quotes the lead singer of the Byrds saying he was interested in “the angry barking” of Coltrane’s saxophone playing.)

Ratliff is too young to fall for the strident 1960s interpretation that Coltrane’s more maniacal music reflected black rage and frustration. Instead, he suggests, intelligently and persuasively, that Coltrane had, among other attributes, a “mystic’s keen sensitivity for the sublime, which runs like a secret river under American culture.” “Coltrane,” Ratliff writes, “was acutely self-possessed in his identity as an artist, at a time when a lot of celebrated American art had become seen as a kind of sanctuary, an escape from military conspiracies, war and television.”

Certainly Coltrane was serenely indifferent to the easier commercial and political temptations of the 1960s. It was after acquiring a mainstream audience with “My Favorite Things,” a big radio hit in 1961, that he expanded his experiments with modal music, which he then interrupted to record some beautifully melodic ballads. Anyone committed to confronting a white middle-class audience with the musical equivalent of Bobby Seale’s speeches wouldn’t have recorded “Lush Life” with Johnny Hartman or so wonderfully and definitively reconfigured “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Tracing Coltrane’s tentative first steps, the early refuge in standards, the religious conversion, the casting around in other cultures and languages, the change of instruments and the final preference for pure incantation, Ratliff’s book seems to describe an odyssey that’s primarily spiritual rather than aesthetic or political. In this light, Coltrane’s last recordings, which make few concessions to a conventional audience, now appear to be a final push for inner freedom, a flight from the dwindling possibilities of jazz itself.

Ratliff outlines only faintly the broader context of what seemed, by the mid-’60s, to be a private and eccentric journey. Jazz, a minority interest even during the heyday of swing, suffered in the postwar period from the rapid disappearance of its social setting, a diminishment only heightened by the flight of the young to rock music, a brash new rival that, paradoxically, also derived from American blues.

Jazz’s turn to the avant-garde and the exoticisms of the 1960s now seems as inevitable as the rise of atonal classical music after the breakup of the stable societies of 19th-century Europe. Of course, jazz, which emerged from post-Reconstruction black America, wasn’t like any other art. Its primary promise — which attracted Larkin, among millions of others — was to entertain a paying audience, and its avant-garde could only flourish in the bourgeois security of what Ratliff calls “the jazz curriculum, the postwar black-studies curriculum and the punk-rock curriculum.” Coltrane, Ratliff writes, “was moving a little too fast for most of his audience.” It could also be said that Coltrane was trying to escape the impasse of antiquarianism in which so much of jazz finds itself today, or that he was working out, in his most inward quests, the melancholy logic of obsolescence.

Pankaj Mishra is the author, most recently, of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

the last paragraph of this "review" rings true to me. can anyone tell me what it means? :unsure:

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About this part: "Of course, jazz, which emerged from post-Reconstruction black America, wasn’t like any other art. Its primary promise — which attracted Larkin, among millions of others — was to entertain a paying audience..."

A passage from my book:

"Obviously there had been a shift in values--in the music and in the society, too. And among those who prefer the orderliness and optimism of older jazz styles to the hectic beauties of bebop, one often hears the complaint that none of this need to have occurred. At one time, so the argument goes, jazz musicians were content to think of themselves as entertainers, not self-conscious artists. If the practitioner of modern jazz wants to please himself and his peers first and the audience second, if at all, he must endure the consequences of this unrealistic, willful act.

"The problem with that argument, though, as British saxophonist Bruce Turner says in his whimsically titled autobiography Hot Air, Cool Music, “is that scarcely any jazz musicians are able to recognize this picture of themselves. There are some jazzmen who are great entertainers. Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Lionel Hampton come immediately to mind. But they are the exception, not the rule. For the most part those of us who play jazz for a living do not know any way of entertaining an audience other than by making the best music we are capable of…. The ‘jazz is entertainment’ theory is only about money, when you boil it down. Jazz finds itself sponsored by the entertainment industry, and in return the latter feels entitled to demand its pound of flesh. Fair enough, but why in heaven's name confuse the issue? The distinction between what is done for love and what is done for quick cash is an obvious one.”

Also, while Larkin was a dickhead about a fair number of things, he never felt that jazz was attractive because its "primary purpose ... was to entertain a paying audience." Yes, he was drawn to the relative unpretentiousness of early jazz versus things that he felt to be self-consciously "artistic," but obviously there was a whole lot of wildly popular, unpretentious, and money-making art that Larkin didn't care for at all. A dickhead, at times, but not an idiot.

Edited by Larry Kart

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I read this review a couple of Sundays ago, and couldn't understand why anyone with any intelligence would care what Philip Larkin thought about John Coltrane's music. Judging from the review, it doesn't seem that the reviewer has any familiarity with Coltrane's music - at least he doesn't offer any opinions/ideas of his own, preferring to parrot Larkin and Ratliff - and used Larkin's opinions as an easy way to open and close his review.

One would think that The Times could have done better, but, these days, that's obviously not the case. It seems that book review sections and newspapers themselves are dying. That's a sad thing - at least to my mind - but it appears that it's suicidal, in addition to the other factors involved.

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October 28, 2007

Music Issue

Favorite Things

By PANKAJ MISHRA

COLTRANE

The Story of a Sound.

By Ben Ratliff.

250 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.

I regret Coltrane’s death,” the English poet Philip Larkin wrote in 1967, “as I regret the death of any man, but I can’t conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence.” In his last years, John Coltrane, who began his career with a Navy band, had moved through modal improvising to what the New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, in this engaging study of the jazz saxophonist’s artistic influence, calls the “music of meditation and chant.” Coltrane would often discard the principle of harmony in order to produce a trancelike effect on his audience; his later compositions recall the scalar complexity of North Indian classical music more than anything in the Western tradition. But they didn’t impress Larkin, who reviewed jazz records from 1961 to 1971 for The Daily Telegraph and could barely tolerate even Coltrane’s most accessible late music, like the devotional suite “A Love Supreme.”

...Ratliff succeeds in rescuing Coltrane from adherents who disregard his strenuous work ethic (even his endless and apparently aimless solos were carefully rehearsed) but adopt the easiest bits of his legacy — the yowling and shrieking. And he’s gently skeptical about Coltrane’s ambition to turn jazz into a bridge to the divine. (It seems clear that program music, however sincerely motivated, can mean anything to the listener when Ratliff quotes the lead singer of the Byrds saying he was interested in “the angry barking” of Coltrane’s saxophone playing.)

.....

Pankaj Mishra is the author, most recently, of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”

The thing about using Larkin is that one has to use his context:

"Virtually the only compliment that one can Coltrane is one of stature. If he was boring, he was enormously boring. If he was ugly, he was massively ugly. To squeak and gibber for 16 bars is nothing. Coltrane could do it for 16 minutes, stunning the listener into a kind of hypnotic state in which he read and reread the sleeevenote and believed, not of course that he was enjoying himself, but that he was hearing something higly significant. Perhaps he was. Time will tell. I regret Coltrane's death, as I regret the death of any man, but I can't conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence."

All What Jazz/Larkin p187-8

And some more context:

"Merely a raucous and inarticulate shouting of hoarse throated instruments, with each player trying to outdo his fellows in fantastic cacophony - yes, if it's the New Wave you are talking about you took the words right out of my mouth. Only, of course, it isn't, or wasn't. This, of the stately, and classic music of Armstrong, Morton and Ellington. It makes you despair of human perception." All What Jazz [1966], Larkin, p. 159

Note the underlying thread: the ugly squeaking and gibbering in Coltrane becomes the raucous and inarticulate cacophony of the New Wave. But, Larkin, no mug, well understands that this is precisely the charge that was thrown at the early jazz of Armstrong et al. He's self-aware enough for that. The trouble is, I don't think Pankaj Mishrah is, with his easy, smug generalisation:

"Ratliff succeeds in rescuing Coltrane from adherents who disregard his strenuous work ethic (even his endless and apparently aimless solos were carefully rehearsed) but adopt the easiest bits of his legacy — the yowling and shrieking."

To spell this out, Jazz has had to contend with charges of chaos from its inception. But this is not all, blacks have had to contend with charges of chaos in American (and beyond) culture in general. This is the wider context and people should be aware of it. More in my article at:

Degenerate Music

I worry that Pankaj Mishrah smuggles in a racist trope without knowing it.

"Yowling and Shrieking" is part of that trope.

Simon Weil

Edited by Simon Weil

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just to put in a good word for Philip Larkin - when he writes about music which he understands and about which he has a clue, he is quite good -

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Larkin wasn't known for his eager curiosity and open-mindedness. Wasn't it he who said "I loathe abroad"?

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not sure - I just find his writing on, say, the Condon crew, pre-bop, old stuff, etc, very interesting to read - smart guy - sorta like Stanley Dance in this way - it is just the way the jazz world is; even Dan Morgenstern, one of the great human beings on the planet, brilliant about most jazz, knows and admits that there is mocy plost-1970s music he just does not feel sympathetic to.

I do remember calling Stanley Dance, who did a lot of good things, the crzarist of jazz critics - basically, pining for the good old days before the revolution - Larkin was like that, too -

Edited by AllenLowe

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Larkin wasn't known for his eager curiosity and open-mindedness. Wasn't it he who said "I loathe abroad"?

Was he, perchance, trying to come out? :rolleyes:

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Good one! Took me a second to parse. ;)

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admits that there is mocy plost-1970s music he just does not feel sympathetic to

Well much mocy plost-1970s music does take some effort to fully appreciate.

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October 28, 2007

Music Issue

Favorite Things

By PANKAJ MISHRA

COLTRANE

...., Ratliff’s book seems to describe an odyssey that’s primarily spiritual rather than aesthetic or political. In this light, Coltrane’s last recordings, which make few concessions to a conventional audience, now appear to be a final push for inner freedom, a flight from the dwindling possibilities of jazz itself.

...Jazz’s turn to the avant-garde and the exoticisms of the 1960s now seems as inevitable as the rise of atonal classical music after the breakup of the stable societies of 19th-century Europe. Of course, jazz, which emerged from post-Reconstruction black America, wasn’t like any other art. Its primary promise — which attracted Larkin, among millions of others — was to entertain a paying audience, and its avant-garde could only flourish in the bourgeois security of what Ratliff calls “the jazz curriculum, the postwar black-studies curriculum and the punk-rock curriculum.” Coltrane, Ratliff writes, “was moving a little too fast for most of his audience.” It could also be said that Coltrane was trying to escape the impasse of antiquarianism in which so much of jazz finds itself today, or that he was working out, in his most inward quests, the melancholy logic of obsolescence.

Pankaj Mishra is the author, most recently, of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Sounds like "Jazz is Dead". Just what we want to hear from the NY Times.

Simon Weil

Edited by Simon Weil

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Not dead, but much of it falls on deaf ears, it seems.

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Not dead, but much of it falls on deaf ears, it seems.

I remember going in one shop in the 90s - a general shop selling books, records, newspapers etc - and asking the guys behind the counter what they thought about Jazz. Basically they didn't want to know and the vibe that came across was a deep resentment. Now this is only one instance, but I always took it to be an really bad sign. I thought this was the response of a couple of ordinary, though musically interested, people to a perceived elitism of Jazz.

I'm not sure it's to do with people thinking that Jazz is "better" than other musics - rather I took it to be a response to Marsalis-lead pompous self-importance that you sometimes find in Jazz - a kind of ramming that inflated sense of value down others' throats.

So, in that regard, I thought "we're going to pay for Marsalis". Maybe we are.

I don't think Jazz is dead...yet.

Simon Weil

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