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Megaphone

Creator vs. Interpretor

By Published: November 13, 2009
I, like so many current musicians, have gone to great lengths and great personal expense to produce my own music. Nearly a decade ago my book Harmony for a New Millennium was published, which details a new method of composing and improvising based on non-traditional harmony. The silence on the part of the critical community on all these efforts has been deafening. I don't mean to overstate the merits of my own creative music. I'm not claiming it's the equal of the great masters of the past or that I consider myself some sort of creative savior of jazz. But I do know that there are other options for jazz beyond playing the standard changes or playing free. Some of these possibilities are to what I've dedicated my creative life.

When a critic such as Gary Giddins chooses to ignore my creative work, of which he is surely aware, and instead brands me in a book as merely a "repertory trumpeter and arranger," I have to wonder: why such willful blindness? Why the closed mind and deaf ears?

It has always been hard to put new ideas on the table. Yet why does this current crop of critics feel obliged to make it even more difficult? There are no clubs anymore like the Five Spot where Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
and John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
could perform and refine their new music and gradually win over a skeptical audience. New music is always a hard sell, as I've experienced first-hand when I produced a concert spotlighting creative new groups for the JVC Festival some years back. Despite mediocre ticket sales, George Wein
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
backed the event and I'll be eternally grateful to him for that. Likewise Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
b.1927
piano
took a chance on a concert of new music for the Jazz in July series. God bless them both. And my hat's off to Dave Douglas for his Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) and the Vision Festival as well. But these opportunities to showcase new music are too few and far-between. It is increasingly left to the musician alone to provide their own platform for self-expression.

I confess that I don't have the answer on how to introduce new approaches into the market place of ideas given the current musical and business climate.

But it's become painfully obvious to me that if a critical core of pundits wants jazz to follow the path of classical music into a numbing recitation of the glories of past epochs, jazz is in grave danger of withering away and losing its larger cultural relevance.

So let's be clear about what we're being asked to sacrifice in the name of the postmodern malaise. If the role of a jazz musician is to be diminished from a creator to an interpreter, let's at least be honest about it. And if jazz is to forego its creative vitality, once the marvel and envy of the world, let's know who's ultimately responsible.



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