Is Jazz a Funeral Parlor?

| 1/4/2010 2:59:44 PM

Signal to Noise Winter 2010What’s wrong with jazz? Pianist Matthew Shipp shares his scathing diagnosis with edgy music magazine Signal to Noise in a cover profile in the latest issue:

“The jazz industry has become a huge funeral parlor,” he says. “Within jazz, the historical weight is so oppressive. If you look at a jazz magazine, eight or nine months of the year they’ll have the same covers you could have seen in 1972. Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock. At least if Spin magazine has an article about the Eagles, they’ll hide it in the back. And if the Eagles go on tour the rock industry treats it as a nostalgia act, but in the jazz industry, if Keith Jarrett or Herbie Hancock go on tour they treat it like it’s real music and it’s important. We’ve heard enough of them—they’re millionaires, they should just go somewhere and stop playing.”

Whew. While I share some of Shipp’s distaste for the mustiness of the jazz world, I don’t see these four musicians as the core of the problem, and in fact I regard Jarrett’s new Testament: Paris/London as one of his finer solo albums. (Read my review in the Jan.-Feb. Utne Reader.) In any case, no matter what Shipp thinks of Jarrett’s and Hancock’s arrangements of notes, his suggestion that they’re not playing “real music” is ridiculous and arrogant.

So it was with some amusement that, later in the same interview, I found Shipp closely echoing something Keith Jarrett told me 12 years ago in an interview. This is what Jarrett said about his solo piano performances:

“To do an improvised concert—[every] time I walk on the stage and play from zero—I need to find a way to start the journey without creating the subject matter in my mind. In other words, I cannot have a melody or a motif in my head, because those things will protrude into the fabric. They will be too prominent and make the music seem like a solid object rather than a flowing process. I have to not play what’s in my ears, if there’s something in my ears. I have to find a way for my hands to start the concert without me.”

And this is how Shipp, in his own saber-tongued style, describes preparing for his solo concerts:

michael cerza
1/5/2010 12:57:20 PM

Sitting down and beginning to play without a roadmap is the only way I know. It results either in soul satisfying slug of a piece of yourself or a miscue and all the murky places in between. I just recorded a CD dedicated to my mother that includes 6 tracks resulting in 42 minutes of improvisations. They represent one feeling kindled from 6 sittings. All of apiece and although not brilliant jazz, I wouldn't change one note.

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