Lazaro Vega

Do the Math: Iverson Interviews Wynton...

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well, it wasn't exactly like that - here's what I said:

"In your book you call hip hop and rap the new minstrelsy; but, historically, hasn't the whole point been for the oppressed to take control of that which has oppressed them and use it for their own artistic ends and means? I'm thinking about Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller and their use of minstrel elements to very progressive musical ends; also, of the paritcipation by African Americans in showbiz in medicine shows, tent shows, and circus shows, and other traveling entertainments after 1890; all of these used the basic minstrel format. And all of these were revolutionary in their impact on American culture; and as one after another black musician has testified, these were all extremely liberating to black performers, allowing them to get out into the world and practice their art."

well, my question was not based merely on supposition, but on the testimony of many musicians, jazz and otherwise, including Doc Cheatham, who reminisced quite happily to me one night about his days on the traveling vaudeville/music/comedy circuit (which, once again, was basically an appropriation of minstrel elements); well, W. would not even talk about it but said minstrelsy was simply racial degredation. When I tried to distinguish the various elements of minstrelsy and to talk about how it altered and changed in black hands, he said, basically, that I was just a cloistered academic who did not know anything. I have to admit that I saw red for a moment or two; I tried to discuss it and gave some points, but he was so dogmatic I shut the whole thing down before I might say something unfriendly.

what I realized afterwards is how little he knows about the whole era I was tlaking about - which is fine, it's not well publicized in historical texts. But instead of wondering what I was getting at, instead of listening to anything I said, he basically, and in a deceptively passive way, attacked me personally and shut down all discussion.

and I gotta admit, calling me an academic is about as big an insult as you can make -

the whole topic is MUCH more complex than he makes it; for another frame of reference read about Pigmeat Markham's experiences around WWII on the stages of Los Angeles; he was wildly successful and hilarious, making a lot of money; after the local NAACP leaned in him to make his act more "modern" and less old-timey/minstrely, his career collapsed. So this is a big subject, I know, and there are many sides. But I was the only one in the room willing to leave it open to debate -

Edited by AllenLowe

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Wow, that sucks that he thought that you didn't know anything just because he disagreed with your conclusions. Pretty damn arrogant, eh?

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Can't say you weren't warned, though! :g

http://www.organissimo.org/forum/index.php...st&p=837455

Is the thrust of the interview going to be to make a point to him or to get his ideas about that point?

I could see this going really well or really badly, depending on which it is...

The only surprise about Marsailis is how unsurprising he remains after all these years...

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the thing is, I had been reading his book (full disclosure here, which will thicken the plot considerably: his co-author and best friend is my brother-in-law); and I was somewhat impressed and interested in what seemed like a greater open-ness to life, shall we say, than I had previously detected in his words. The book is very revealing in places and I found myself surprised at how interesting I found it.

The truth is, there is a not-so-fine-line between arrogance and just plain self confidence coupled with a personal willingness to engage in the give-and-take of open debate; to my way of thinking one must always be ready to abandon one's pre-conceived notions, to recognize that they may be based on received ideas or other unsupported evidence. I think it's almost always a mistake to close discussion -

"Is the thrust of the interview going to be to make a point to him or to get his ideas about that point?"

none of the above - I wanted to hear him out - but to hear him out on solely his own terms is old news - been there/done that, as has the rest of the world. I was thinking, ok, you express regret at certain points of the book at being closed off, in the past, to certain ideas. Well, let's put it to the test.

It was a good idea and I have NO regrets -

Edited by AllenLowe

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The truth is, there is a not-so-fine-line between arrogance and just plain self confidence coupled with a personal willingness to engage in the give-and-take of open debate; to my way of thinking one must always be ready to abandon one's pre-conceived notions, to recognize that they may be based on received ideas or other unsupported evidence. I think it's almost always a mistake to close discussion -

Words to live by, those! :tup:tup:tup:tup:tup

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And precisely what Wynton is not about. My impression is that he feels he owns the truth about jazz (which I think he learned from Albert Murray and Crouch and committed to memory) and about its relationship to the black American experience, and his mission is to spread the word. He is not interested in having open discussions that challenge his hard-won preconceptions, especially with people who are not famous and celebrated. If you had won a Nobel Prize, appeared regularly on NPR, or been an arts establishment insider for decades, I think he would have debated with you much more readily. I suspect that he filters out the hoi-polloi, as does Crouch.

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exactly - though I did tell him I had won the Nobel for Physics - I don't think he bought it, however, as he mentioned Albert Einstein, and at first I couldn't place the name -

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I'm only casually familiar with Wyntonism (I think I can call it that), but from what you describe Allen, the man seems to be more concerned with keeping the structures in tact which give him whatever authority (and power) he has accumulated, than someone interested in discussing views that diverge from his own -- and threaten that very power structure. (Not an uncommon trait among the highly successful). There's obviously a race component to this era you wanted to discuss with him as well, one he apparently has difficulty with, for whatever reason.

It doesn't sound as though he gave you anything of substance to challenge your argument. Dismissing you as an "academic" (meaning, I take it, someone with no "real world" experience) is a rather cowardly attack in this context, IMO -- as if to say you have no business discussing the topic, and akin to you calling him an ivory-tower elitist (which, come to think of it, he may find no objection to?)

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well, it bothered me for many reasons, not least of all because he seemed to assume that I had no real or hands on experience with music - when I've been playing music longer than he has -

Edited by AllenLowe

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..........I did not anticipate how he would basically say "this is the way it is" case closed I will not listen to anything you say. That's what bugged me; I wanted to talk about it but he shut down in that way of a politician (or actor) who hears only his own voice - there was a good deal of narcissism in his response.

Hmmmmm..............this sounds extremely familiar for some reason. It's as if I've experienced it myself recently............

somewhere...............

...........damned if I can remember where and when, though. Must be getting old and forgetful. Yeah ---------- that's it.

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Outside of Allen's trouble with the man, I found the interview very interesting and found Wynton let his guard down a tiny bit. The analysis of "Knozzsmoeking" was great, and I have heard several musicians talk about how difficult the stuff was that the Roberts/Wynton/Tain unit plays but its much more understandable. I was only 2 or 3 when "Black Codes" came out, and first heard the vinyl when I was about 7 or 8, I remember everything after the title track not making a whole lot of sense to me. Now it does, especially since I have listened extensively for years to the Hancock/Carter/Williams rhythm section, which I really think the Kirkland (or) Roberts/Hurst (or Moffett)/Watts section tried to emulate, and for that generation of players became the equivalent. It's interesting, listening to the track, and Wynton's analysis it really does sound odd that Tain chose to play against the time of what Wynton/Marcus and Bob were doing, considering as W said he hardly did that except for that performance there. It puts me in mind that yesterday I was listening to disc 1 of Herbie's "VSOP" and Ron is playing against Herbie's time, Tony's playing with a samba feel (think it's "Maiden Voyage") and it sounds great because they were in sync. As a contrast, what Tain was doing on Wynton's track felt very out of place with that half time thing. I think Iverson is on to something when he says that the odd meter things in an otherwise 4/4 "Young Lion" 80's thing is more connected with fusion than say hard bop. Certainly the kinetic approach of Watts is very much fusiony.

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I would be very interested in seeing the tape of Allen's interview with Wynton. Given what has been said here, however, it is not difficult for me to understand that Wynton could have become rather cold and defensive in that context. Put yourself is his shoes for a minute. You, a controversial figure in jazz with many enemies, agree to do a a taped interview with a person who you do not know, and this person immediately comes right at you, putting your knowledge to test on late 19th and early 20th century American music. I would suspect that it might be a set up. And maybe it was? :)

A real test of the degree of inflexibility of Wynton's views would probably have to be done informally over a beer.

I get the impression that Wynton secretly regrets some of the more outrageous statements that he made in his youth on the basis of limited information, but his ego doesn't let him completely back away from those statements today. I see that syndrome in academia all the time. A brilliant scholar comes up with a great and influential theory that gets essentially disproven by empirical facts over time. Rather than acknowledge this fact, the common reaction of the scholar is to waste a huge amount of time and effort on coming up with statistical manipulations or new theories that could somehow exonerate the discredited theory associated with his name.

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that is very true John L. A trait some of the worst professors I had in college shared, b/c they had all gone to high level institutions, had the work published and had inflated senses of self importance. It sounds like Wynton was projecting his issue onto Allen.

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"Put yourself is his shoes for a minute. You, a controversial figure in jazz with many enemies, agree to do a a taped interview with a person who you do not know, and this person immediately comes right at you, putting your knowledge to test on late 19th and early 20th century American music. I would suspect that it might be a set up. And maybe it was? :) "

this is extremely unfair and the implications are a little unfriendly here - read what I said, above - I asked him a perfectly appropriate question - he's the one who expanded the reference to areas he knows nothing about. No one made specific reference to the 19th century, though if HE makes a statement that applies he has the responsibility to support it. It was a friendly and unthreatening atmosphere, arranged by one of his closest friends. He (like Crouch) makes these kind of statements all the time about the contemporary music of young African Americans. Why should ne NOT be accountable for them? He's a public figure who in the past has thought nothing of attacking people like Miles Davis in public. And who said I came RIGHT at him? once again, these are the same kinds of nasty assumptions that too often pass for debate on these forums. We had been talking for at least 15 minutes when the topic came up. I was perfectly appropriate and I gotta say I resent the implication that I have been misrepresenting the way I approached this interview.

I do agree that he has regret about some of the more callow statements he made in his youth - HOWEVER, my encounter with him showed, to me, that he has changed only on the surface. He is magnanimous as long as his own opinions are enforced and as long as his ego is massaged, This sounds harsh, but I got this very strong sense of him, and others have confirmed it since the interview.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Allen: There was no attempt on my part to be unfriendly here. I used the smiley at the end of that sentence to indicate that I meant it in jest, at least sort of. You did have the intention of carrying out a very substantative and challenging interview for Wynton, which he could have interpreted (even wrongly so) as hostile.

Since I have not seen the inteview, and the summary of your conversation was incomplete with no actual quotes from Wynton, what I wrote was based on supposition. I am sorry if I supposed wrong, and please don't take personal offense.

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no sweat, I appreciate your response; I did see the smiley! just sometimes in this place personal innuendo subsitutes for discussion and I know that sometimes internet communications are not clear. I'm a tiny bit defensive because I agree that I am out front in my opinions and not shy about expressing them, which grates on some people. But I am also careful in that I never hide any agenda I may have, and I never pretend I mean or want one thing when I mean or want another.

it's just that the whole episode was strange and disorienting to me. It did inspire me to begin work on the blues book, so in that sense in may have been a good thing because, as I mentioned somewhere else, it got me to thinking about something that I should be thinking about. Part of the sensitivity of the whole issue, of course, is the apparent presumptuousness of a white guy telling a black guy that he is wrong about an issue of race, and that certainly did not make the situation any easier. On the other hand I have been reading a lot of Ellison recently in researching my book and it's calmed my nervousness on this issue somewhat, as he strongly opposes the use of racial determinism in the development of cultural perspectives. Ironically or not Wynton, Crouch , and Murray all idolize Ellison. I don't think, however, that they have read him closely enough or really get the depth and complexity of his racial/cultural perspective. I can say, for example, from a discussion I had with Albert Murray many years ago that his general belief is that African Americans have a cultural advantgage in not only playing the music but in understanding it; though I might agree that this was true at some point in our history, unless you believe culture is passed on genetically it is no longer supportable as a thesis (once again I defer to Ellison here). And I do believe I have earned my opinions in real time, we might say, by learning the music, playing the music, and getting to know the musicians. On the OTHER hand - I do believe racism is such a complex and deeply wounding force that any non-African American, in discussing all this, needs to tread carefully and be sure to allow for a cultural/political margin of error that is quite attributable to race.

Edited by AllenLowe

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A quote from Part 2 of EI' s interview with WM, WM speaking of Dizzy's recording of Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." with the Ellington band:

"When Dizzy was a boy, he looked up to Duke. He saw a film with Duke on it and Duke was clean and he was like, "Damn, I want to be like this." Duke meant a lot to black people at that time. There wasn't any minstrel shit. That meant a lot. Kind of what Miles Davis meant to people in the late 50's and early 60's. He kind of had that feeling of the younger musicians. This was a guy, early modern and getting far away from the minstrel thing."

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I've had some pleasant, mutually fruitful interactions with Ethan Iverson, who is very nice guy and a fine musician, but at times the tone of this interview seems to me to border on the abject. A few excerpts:

EI:    I’m eating this up, by the way....

[At this point in the interview, Wynton and I had been going non-stop for over four hours.  He invited me to join him while he took his kids outside for a minute and bring my tape recorder if I wanted to keep talking.  We went over to a nearby open-air basketball court where Wynton hangs out all the time.  (He's lived in the same place for about twenty years; I suspect everybody in the area knows him. By name he greeted the doorman, the people on the corner, a grocer...I felt like I was walking next to the Mayor or something.)....

EI:    I feel a certain anxiety about people knowing something about jazz and the jazz tradition.  I’m a white guy born in Wisconsin in 1973. Everything I know about jazz is just because I had this passion for it for some reason – but no culture.  Jazz culture wasn’t part of my upbringing.

WM:    Yes, it was. You're an American.  You heard the blues somewhere.

EI:    I don’t think so, man. Only modern country and radio rock, that's all I knew, or would have known if I didn't go get it myself. 

I feel tension about how little people know and respect some basic shit about jazz. And, compared to someone like you,  I’m not even involved!  I can only imagine the tension and frustration you feel sometimes about trying to get the message through.

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A quote from Part 2 of EI' s interview with WM, WM speaking of Dizzy's recording of Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." with the Ellington band:

"When Dizzy was a boy, he looked up to Duke. He saw a film with Duke on it and Duke was clean and he was like, "Damn, I want to be like this." Duke meant a lot to black people at that time. There wasn't any minstrel shit. That meant a lot. Kind of what Miles Davis meant to people in the late 50's and early 60's. He kind of had that feeling of the younger musicians. This was a guy, early modern and getting far away from the minstrel thing."

Dizzy himself is on record more than a few times making very similar, hell, damn near exact statements about himself and bebop in general.

There's (at least) two levels of reality going on in all this. There's "minstrel" as in historical reality, which Allen certainly knows about and accurately notes was a time of incredible cultural/artistic cross-pollination. Then there's "minstrel" as an oppressive/regressive set of business/cultural expectations.

Which one is "real"?

Hell, they both are, as are their legacies. And can't no amount of protestations on/from either side change that.

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I also don't think that this ambiguity is ever going to be (re)solved, or that it necessarily needs to be, other than by simply accepting it for what it is and moving on. Once the "need" to resolve it is removed, hey, it no longer has any power other than it being just one more thing that goes into the mix. Big whoop then!

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Also, see this post from EI's blog about the AACM Versus "The Marsalis Juggernaut":

http://thebadplus.typepad.com/dothemath/20...n-old-feud.html

Crucial to EI's point of view here is his negative assessement of Steve McCall's drumming on Air's "King Porter Stomp" from the album "Air Lore." He includes an excerpt from the passage he has in mind and then adds this:

"Clunky, sloppy drumming when played with great time is one of the great pleasures, but I’m not sure if McCall’s time is quite good enough to pull it off.  I don’t think it’s amateurish, exactly...but I do think that I should not have to wonder about it."

I couldn't disagree more. The point of this passage, as it was conceived and executed (and this is true of much if not all AACM music), is that one should have to wonder about it along just those lines. EI yearns for the security of what might be called "the norms of craft professionalism" and feels insecure, uncertain when its clothing presence is in doubt but he himself does not then feel secure in tagging the musicians involved as "amateurish, exactly." I could write a book about this (George Lewis beat me to it), but the doubt that EI feels here is a dramatically expressive, intentionally created, playful doubt or ambiguity about one's relationship to/attitude toward (in this case) certain musical habits from "the past" -- not the same thing exactly as, say, Mahlerian irony, but come on, this kind of thing hasn't been unheard of in music for at least a century now.

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Any "serious jazz musician" who questions Steve McCall's time is an instant recipient of a Shoemake Award in my book...

(sorry, "inside joke" about a guy who questioned Bill Perkins' knowledge of harmony in some blog or something...)

Edited by JSngry

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A quote from Part 2 of EI' s interview with WM, WM speaking of Dizzy's recording of Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." with the Ellington band:

"When Dizzy was a boy, he looked up to Duke. He saw a film with Duke on it and Duke was clean and he was like, "Damn, I want to be like this." Duke meant a lot to black people at that time. There wasn't any minstrel shit. That meant a lot. Kind of what Miles Davis meant to people in the late 50's and early 60's. He kind of had that feeling of the younger musicians. This was a guy, early modern and getting far away from the minstrel thing."

Dizzy himself is on record more than a few times making very similar, hell, damn near exact statements about himself and bebop in general.

There's (at least) two levels of reality going on in all this. There's "minstrel" as in historical reality, which Allen certainly knows about and accurately notes was a time of incredible cultural/artistic cross-pollination. Then there's "minstrel" as an oppressive/regressive set of business/cultural expectations.

Which one is "real"?

Hell, they both are, as are their legacies. And can't no amount of protestations on/from either side change that.

And, as you of course know, Dizzy himself used a lot of minstrel-related shtick in arguably un-oppressive, un-regressive, game-playing ways -- though some fans (Black and white) have always felt otherwise about that stuff, for a variety of reasons.

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And so the ambiguity continues.

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