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  • Michael Ricci wrote on April 24, 2009 report

    Posted on behalf of John W. Comerford

    Dear Editor,

    In response to the article published by your website yesterday evening entitled "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense" World Premiere by Eric Benson I wanted to share two thoughts of my own as Executive Producer of the film series.

    First, and most important is my intention to welcome a dialogue with any interested party in our work. So, with that in mind I invite Mr. Benson to consider one of the core findings of our seven year journey to complete the episodes. At the center of this discovery lies a simple truth, that if we have learned anything from our study of the words and music of these deeply committed artists, it is that jazz is what you make of it. Its subjective properties are the foundation of its meaning and when the listener's emotional and intellectual responses are externalized, jazz has the potential to create a conversation which is filled with both powerful agreement and disagreement.

    Second, is the idea that the standards which the writer appears to be judging us by are perhaps inappropriate after a single viewing the first episode of our four part series.

    Lastly, if it is a rallying cry the writer seeks then he may be unable to recognize the integrity of our work as we have gone to great lengths to offer only the musicians' words and music to invest in the infinite possibilities of conversation which are at the heart of jazz in my humble opinion.

    Yours truly,

    John W. Comerford
    Executive Producer, Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense

  • Eric Benson wrote on April 25, 2009 report

    First off, let me thank John Comerford for his thoughtful response to my article. I'm honored that the executive producer of Icons Among Us took the time to address many of the issues that I raised in my article.

    I agree with Mr. Comerford's assertion that in jazz's "subjective properties are the foundation of its meaning and when the listener's emotional and intellectual responses are externalized, jazz has the potential to create a conversation which is filled with both powerful agreement and disagreement." We've seen these powerful agreements and disagreements among musicians, among critics, and among fans. It's the stuff that sells a million copies of Rolling Stone every time they throw a "100 greatest ____ of all-time" up on the cover. Interpreting jazz (or any other art) fuels debate, hopefully lively, spirited, and productive.

    I certainly have considered the simple truth that "jazz is what you make of it." As a critic for All About Jazz, I'm routinely asked to make something of what I hear, to render an opinion on what worked and what didn't. I have never thought that jazz has only one truth or one definition, but I've also never thought that we should judge every artistic effort equal. It's up to every interpreter, be he or she a musician, writer, filmmaker, or listener to decide what we should pass over and what we should celebrate.

    When I wrote, "At the end of the first episode, our picture of jazz in the present tense' is of a music that wants to be current, isn't quite sure how to get there, doesn't quite know what to do with its history, and is beginning to look for something to do beside infighting," I meant to suggest that the music is still in the middle of a process of interpreting itself and its future. John Medeski says as much in Icons Among Us, identifying the current era as an especially exciting time in jazz precisely because everything is unsettled, because no heroic figurehead has yet emerged.

    Mr. Comerford took issue with the final sentence of my piece: "That's not much of a rallying cry for a revolution, quiet or otherwise." I don't seek rallying cries normally, but I do from revolutions. My comment criticized what I saw as a disjunction between the episode's contentwhich painted jazz as a music with a lot of very different opinions on its present, past, and futureand the episode's title, "A Quiet Revolution." The first episode of the documentary did a great job of giving voice to the differences within the jazz world, we saw everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Bugge Wesseltoft. It did not convince me, however, that there was a revolution going on in jazz; it convinced me that jazz was in a period of questioning. The subtitle to my article"The Jazz Wars are over. Now what?"reflected this view. The next three episodes may well prove me wrong, but given the first episode's claim of a "quiet revolution," I think my critique was valid.

    I'd like to add that I'm eager to view the final three episodes of Icons Among Us and to continue the dialogue that we've begun here.

    My warm best,

    Eric Benson
    Brooklyn, NY

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