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Hardbopjazz

Wynton is live right now...

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He was the wrong person for the job, but Wynton did not hire himself, so if we need someone to throw darts at, it should be the people who created Wynton (and here I do not speak of his family) and those who so misguidedly anointed him king of jazz. Don't blame Wynton for not turning down such an opportunity, blame him for not recognizing his own limitations and, thus, not allowing it to broaden his horizon.

Suggestions that discussions like this amount to beating a dead horse are not unfounded, but if protest becomes acceptance, the mistake is more likely to be repeated.

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I remain convinced that WM is a very good jazz musician when he wants to be.

Larry, I have not followed him as you have. I don't know what the big lie is.

The "big lie"of WM is not so much anything that he himself has said but the promotion and widespread public acceptance of him (the latter on the part of many prominent people in th world of jazz whom I know know better -- see the anecdote I mentioned in my previous post) as a remarkable jazz trumpeter and composer who will lead jazz out of the darkness in which it supposedly was languishing until WM came along. Yes, he is or can be a remarkable trumpeter technically, but otherwise.... As for his compositions, oy vey. An important footnote to this "big lie" was WM's Stanley Crouch/Albert Murray fueled-stance that the jazz avant garde was more or less a fraud and that its very existence is what had brought jazz down to the sorry state that required the princely WM to ride in and rescue it.

Two passages about aspects of this from my book "Jazz In Search of Itself" (Yale University Press, 2004):

1) Transforming tradition into an immediate aesthetic virtue has been the goal of Wynton Marsalis and others of his ilk; and the pieces gathered here under the heading “The Neo-Con Game” argue that, except in the realm of publicity, this attempt has failed. Not because the jazz past is or should be a closed book; the possibility always exists that living musicians will be driven to make contact with what has come before them and make something vital and new out of it. But when tradition is being brandished in the name of order, stability, or status, direct language-level contact with the music tends drastically to diminish--or so the course of Marsalis’s career suggests.

2) Almost twenty years have passed [since WM's advent -- at the time I wrote this piece], and it now seems clear that despite the prominence that the engines of cultural politics and publicity have given to Wynton Marsalis, his music (especially his latter-day orchestral work) is a non-issue aesthetically and has been for some time. Such Marsalis pastiches as the oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), the suite In This House, On This Morning (1993) and the ballets Citi Movement (1991), Jazz (1993) and Jump Start (1995) seem to come from a strange alternate universe --one in which some of the surface gestures of Duke Ellington have been filtered through the toylike sensibility of Raymond Scott.

Marsalis remains a skilled instrumentalist, but he has never been a strikingly individual soloist. As for his orchestral works, their relative poverty of invention becomes clear when they are placed alongside the likes of George Russell’s Chromatic Universe and Living Time, Oliver Nelson’s Afro-American Sketches, Bill Holman’s Further Adventures, Muhal Richard Abrams’s The Hearinga Suite, Bob Brookmeyer’s Celebration, John Carter’s Roots and Folklore, and, of course, the more successful orchestral works of Ellington himself. A brief comparison between one of the major vocal episodes in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields, “Will the Sun Come Out?” (sung by Cassandra Wilson), and the opening vocal movement of Ellington’s otherwise instrumental Liberian Suite (1947), “I Like the Sunrise” (sung by Al Hibbler), might be revealing. The works are comparable in theme--the subject of Blood on the Fields is slavery in America, while Liberian Suite was commissioned by the West African republic of Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in 1847--and both “Will the Sun Come Out?” (which lasts nine minutes) and “I Like the Sunrise” (half as long) are meditative semi-laments in which hope, pain, frustration, and doubt are meant to joust with each other. The melody of “I Like the Sunrise” has an equivocal, sinuous grace (climbing in pitch toward a point of harmonic release it cannot reach, it expressively stalls out on the words “raised up high, far out of sight”), while the key turn in the lyric--“I like the sunrise…it brings new hope, they say” (my emphasis) is commented upon and deepened by a tapestry of orchestral and solo voices (particularly those of baritone saxophonist Harry Carney and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton). By contrast, the three verses of “Will the Sun Come Out?” go almost nowhere in twice the span of time. The melody itself, despite Wilson’s attempts to shape it, is hardly a melody at all but a lumpy recitative that sounds as though it had been assembled bar by bar, while the ensemble’s instrumental interventions and the solos of pianist Eric Reed merely distend things further. It could be argued that within the overall dramatic scheme of Blood on the Fields, “Will the Sun Come Out?” is meant to be an episode of near-paralysis, and that the music ought to mirror this. But listen to “Will the Sun Come Out?” and ask yourself how often you have heard nine minutes of music pass this uneventfully.

Why, then, the Marsalis phenomenon, such as it has been and perhaps still is? One struggles to think of another figure in the history of jazz who was a significant cultural presence but not a significant musical one. Dave Brubeck? Perhaps, but there is no counterpart in Marsalis’s music to the lyrical grace of Paul Desmond or to those moments when Brubeck himself was genuinely inspired. Paul Whiteman? Yes, in terms of the ability to marshal media attention, but if we credit Whiteman with all the music that was produced under his aegis, the comparison probably would be in his favor. Think again of Whiteman and Marsalis, though, not in terms of the kinds of music they made but of the cultural roles they filled. In both the 1920s and the 1980s (when Marsalis arose) the popularity and respectability of jazz were felt to be key issues--the difference being that in the twenties some part of the culture found it necessary and/or titillating to link a popular but not yet “respectable” music to the conventions of the concert hall, while in the eighties jazz had come to be regarded as a music of fading popular appeal that needed the imprimatur of respectability in order to survive--and to be subsidized, like the opera, the symphony orchestra, and the ballet. Thus the tuxedoed Whiteman, wielding his baton like Toscanini; thus Marsalis the articulate whiz kid, equally at home with Miles Davis and Haydn and foe of rap and hip-hop. But while the byplay between notions of what is lively and what is respectable may be an unavoidable part of the cultural landscape, a music that springs from such premises, as Marsalis’s so often seems to do, eventually stands revealed as a form of packaged status whose relationship to the actual making of music always was incidental.

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Thank you Larry Kart for taking the time to express the position. I have not bothered to listen to the large works.

I simply dismissed them after a short sample. His early jazz and Ellington projects fall short to, IMO.

I did enjoy his work with Art Blakey and some other (possibly) sideman projects.

For me, 'innovation' is not as important as playing very good music. WM can play excellent fresh, swinging, intricate, absorbing JAZZ. and yes he is a wonderful versatile trumpet player. That is not easy!

I have no love for much jazz of the later 60s to the present. I don't want to listen to emotional screaming thru an instrument. Music is more than that.

I was not so much happy with WM's status as that I think he helps sell jazz (ok, not all of it) and gives it a respectable image. I think it still needs that.

Clearly I don't have any deep thoughts on this matter (or any) :-)

I think he is good for jazz and plays very good at times. VERY good.

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Thanks a lot for posting those pieces, Larry! And thanks everyone for the most enlightening discussion here - I've tried to voice my problems with Wynton, but never as successfully as is being done here.

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"Such Marsalis pastiches as the oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), the suite In This House, On This Morning (1993) and the ballets Citi Movement (1991), Jazz (1993) and Jump Start (1995) seem to come from a strange alternate universe --one in which some of the surface gestures of Duke Ellington have been filtered through the toylike sensibility of Raymond Scott."

I love this quote, Larry ( and I just finished re-reading your book)!

To bring you up to date in the helium filled atmosphere of Wynton's most "serious" projects, he has been in town lately rehearsing a new collaboration with Garth Fagan's Dance company, so another helping of "Citi Movement" is in store you all of you fans. There is a debut here in November.

Fagan is a visionary, but he's susceptible to ass kissing as anyone.

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yeah I saw that - in a way, the people who Larry mentions who praised Wynton not because they believed it but because they so feared the more radical elements in jazz are sort of like the Christian Democrats in Chile who sided with the Right wing because they feared Allende was too radical - by sublimating their better instincts in favor of what they thought were long-term gains they helped foment a fascist state and the destruction of democracy in Chile - parallel to jazz's steady market descent under Wynton's leadership.

Edited by AllenLowe

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People be dancing to that shit?

See, this is why I just stay home and watch baseball these days. Or something. Peoples' nature done got all fucked up and I'd just as soon not watch.

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... I have no love for much jazz of the later 60s to the present. I don't want to listen to emotional screaming thru an instrument. Music is more than that ...

To my ears, what you call "emotional screaming" is music that is much more than what Wynton and his ilk have to offer.

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Exactly, emotion is a major missing ingredient in Wynton's music—imagination is the other.

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parallel to jazz's steady market descent under Wynton's leadership.

But jazz was never under Wynton's leadership. You might say "jazz" was/is under Wynton's leadership, if "jazz" = the marketing narrative for jazz that major labels presented in the 80's and 90's to push product. That narrative failed resoundingly and now seems relevant only to a small côterie of Friends of Wynton. But I guess that's what you meant, actually.

The fact that jazz doesn't sell much isn't the fault of the marketing narrative of which Wynton was the spearhead. To say otherwise would be to imply that all jazz needs to thrive is a good overall marketing narrative. You can either accept the wide variety and stubborn quirkiness of the bunch of stuff that is jazz, with all its glories and its oddities, or else pine for marketing, regimentation and shibboleths.

Edited by Tom Storer

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not what I was saying - the point is that when the center of power (and Wynton is the most powerful musician in the history of jazz) goes to a dictator everything falls apart. And I think I disagree; jazz needs marketing like everything else, just a different kind,.

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I actually think Wynton would be an excellent side man - interpreting good writing. He is not the first jazz guy to observe The Peter Principle (anyone else remember that?)

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not what I was saying - the point is that when the center of power (and Wynton is the most powerful musician in the history of jazz) goes to a dictator everything falls apart. And I think I disagree; jazz needs marketing like everything else, just a different kind,.

Again, Wynton as dictator of jazz is something I can't see. He wields power in the jazz subcategory of Manhattan cultural institutions, and he gets disproportionate visibility as the media's stereotypical jazz musician. He has a following among musicians and among fans, but so does Steve Coleman, so does Pat Metheny, so does William Parker, so does Dave Holland, etc. I think it's distorting a more complex and chaotic reality to say that Wynton is the boss so it's his fault if the jazz audience is decreasing. He's not the boss. I doubt the situation of jazz in the music market would have changed much if he had turned down Art Blakey and stayed in New Orleans as a local star. It might have declined more swiftly. There's no real way to tell.

As for marketing, jazz musicians need marketing, individually and collectively. But who does the marketing for Jazz as a concept? There's no CEO of jazz to appoint a Marketing Director. There's just an aggregate of musicians trying to gain notoriety, critics doing their thing, record labels and festival organizers and so on, all making their uncoordinated efforts. And bickering fans, of course. Marketing jazz, to quote a phrase, is like herding cats.

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Wynton is seen everywhere as a spokesperson; you know it's slly, Tom, and I know it's silly; but that's what a lot of people, from Time Magazine to Obama, think. So he ranks, really, as the most powerful musician in the history of jazz. And he is not a benevolent dictator.

Edited by AllenLowe

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"I doubt the situation of jazz in the music market would have changed much if he had turned down Art Blakey and stayed in New Orleans as a local star. It might have declined more swiftly. There's no real way to tell." —Tom Storer<br style="color: rgb(28, 40, 55); font-size: 13px; line-height: 19px; background-color: rgb(250, 251, 252); ">

Had Wynton stayed in New Orleans, someone else would have been given that job and that person is very likely to have been someone who accepts the fact that jazz did not wither off the vine in the postwar years. It is—given the odds—also probable that this would have been a more qualified person. Oh, he or she is not likely to have had Haydn's Trumpet Concerto down pat, but neither is it likely that he or she would have played jazz as if local anesthesia had been administered.

BTW, was Wynton a local star in N.O.? He played more classical than jazz, I believe.

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You people really sell him short. Which war are you referring to?

From what I've heard him play WM covers 20s-mid60s.

Put him in a cutting contest with any of today's trumpet players and he'll do just fine.

and I do not believe he plays without emotion. He did not get to that level of artistry without passion.

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You people really sell him short. Which war are you referring to?

From what I've heard him play WM covers 20s-mid60s.

Put him in a cutting contest with any of today's trumpet players and he'll do just fine.

and I do not believe he plays without emotion. He did not get to that level of artistry without passion.

I'm glad that you enjoy his music, really I am. Please accept the fact that his playing leaves some of us cold and his music politics have been cause for feelings of resentment.

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...jazz needs marketing like everything else, just a different kind,.

I have racked my mind trying to imagine how jazz might be successfully marketed these days, and have consistently come up blank. The tiny market share it encompasses is already splintered into too many sub-genres and subcultures.

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" I do not believe he plays without emotion. He did not get to that level of artistry without passion." —flat5

What level of artistry would that be? There is, indisputably, a high level of recognition, but it is not commensurate with his level of artistry. That is a major problem many of us have with Wynton and—as I pointed out previously—we can't blame the man for taking the job, he was simply miscast. Jazz is short-changed when the person who in most people's minds (and the media) personifies it lacks both passion and vision.

Frankly, Wynton has not reached any notable level of artistry in his many years as a spotlight figure. He is technically proficient, but his playing is often tasteless, and he would never have allowed such extended abominations as Blood in the Fields to reach the record racks if it were not for a delusional exaggeration of his own worth as a composer.

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I'm only considering his ability to play a very good jazz solo on a tune.

Admittedly I'd have to listen to many CDs to come up with a list of those solos.

I'm not in the mood to check out a pile of CDs.

I'm not trying to justify his composing or other aspects of his...work.

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One can speak with excellent grammar, syntax and enunciation without saying anything.

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One can speak with excellent grammar, syntax and enunciation without saying anything.

I think I see perfectly well what you are getting at and I do understand your point, but to remain with your example/analogy:

Assuming somebody only cares to shriek, gargle, groan and wail like he's gone bezerk if he gets up to say whatever he has to say, would you give much thought to what he might have to say for any CONSIDERABLE length of time? Is this how you would like to be talked to on a permanent basis? ;)

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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I Googled on 'speak with excellent grammar, syntax and enunciation without saying anything'

but found nothing funny.

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i appreciate, respect and admire Wynton. however, he is not among my favorite trumpet players. i would prefer Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Roy Hargrove and many others. but Wynton has done so much for jazz, especially in educating youngsters. and he is constantly giving praise and recognition to those who came before him. and i personally know of how generous he has been, without any fanfare or publicity, in helping other musicians in need. he is a good man which is, ironically, more than i could say about some of my favorite players!

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