With Friends Like These...
For real perspective, a little quiz:
Off the top of your head and in three minutes (no research in books, liner notes, the Internet, etc.), name as many important non-musicians as you can who had a truly meaningful influence on Jazz prior to 1950. (Pause) My guess is that unless you have an extremely overloaded knowledge of Jazz history, very few of you will be able to name more than two or three, if that. Now do the same with musicians. (Pause) I bet they shot out like bullets from an Uzi, and that you could go on for another five minutes at the same pace.
And that's the way it's supposed to be.
Producers, presenters, clubowners, managers, agents, record business executives, and the vast majority of writers are nothing but functionaries and facilitators for the truly essential component of this art form - the musicians. You're not supposed to know who we are. We are supposed to be behind the scenes and stay there. Occasionally (and very rarely), an Alfred Lion, a Rudy Van Gelder, a Norman Granz, a Nat Hentoff emerge and make a mark that is truly meaningful. That's because they did (do) their jobs out of love and for the joys and satisfaction intrinsically entailed; not for the sake of their own aggrandizement.
We have become a culture of starfuckers and if we can't reach the stars we want, we'll manufacture the ones we can. When it comes to the Paris Hiltons, Jessica Simpsons and Regis Philbins of popular culture, it's an old story. But when it occurs in the domain that is supposed to be built upon the legacies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, it is a shameful travesty.
Musicians have never ruled the economic strata of Jazz, but until recently, they did control the music. Now they've lost even that. And the only way they're going to get it back is for musicians, their representatives and the truly committed advocates to throw the phonies, poseurs and related weasels out of the house and into the gutters where they belong.
If that means losing the extremely rare, high paying gig, so be it. If that means ostracizing an anointed mediocrity who's being rammed down the throats of an indifferent, ignorant public, so be it. If it means calling out some cheap hustlers who cover their fat asses with an oversized race card, see it for the deuce it really is and call them on it. If some arrogant junior George Wein, who wouldn't know A flat from B cool, tries to force you into some arbitrary context, contrived collaboration or sit-up-and-beg posture, get into his or her face like Mingus, Miles or Betty would have. There is no Jazz business without Jazz musicians; and even more importantly, there will be no Jazz future unless today's musicians are ready to bring the same level of commitment, pride and power to the table that the great members of the Pantheon brought in the past. That means that they need to bring back Truth into the music and into the entire domain in which it's created. Whatever the cost will be, it cannot be as great as the cost is going to be if things continue the way they are going now.
I keep hearing that the things I've been saying here in these writings are the same things that musicians have been saying privately and behind closed doors for decades. It's time that they start saying them out in the open.
I'm guessing that 'round about now some of you think I've answered the question as to why I was left out of the process when the recent initiatives were being developed (when the loot was being divvied up would be a more appropriate description).
After all, who would want a muthafucka with an attitude like mine at the table. In fact, one particular professional actually told me recently that it was the hardcore things I write that have kept me out of the process. My response to him was "you mean that I was left out of these initiative sessions in the mid to late '80s because they knew I was going to start writing these pieces in the late '90s?