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Conned Jazz Artistes

AAJ Staff By

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Media has played its role of the unofficial ombudsman now and then. Many times in the hoary past media has perhaps gone for its forty blinks, when some terrible robbing of credit or cash took place
I love enduring all kinds of new experiences, the more intriguing and exasperatingly complex, the better. Recently a close friend, a leading astrophysicist Dr. D.J. Saikia invited me to spend a day with him at the GMRT [giant metre wave radio telescope] which nestles amidst a green bowl-like formation of low hills standing like a troop of gigantic frozen sentries.

He had spent a couple of nights peering into the deep sky, guiding some budding scientists hell-bent on unraveling the mysterious far beyond the reach of the most powerful optical telescopes. Saw with the chosen few I was given the rarer than xenon or krypton opportunity to see what no humans have never seen before. Gigantic unknown galaxies in a cluster, moving into each other in something they glibly call NGC 2146. It was awesome, the simulated picture on a powerful computer, showing us after 12 huge antennae with 150 feet diameter nodding their heads in a synchronized symphony like painstakingly trained whales, had gathered. The radiation [not light] gathered had taken 25 million years to reach us... it was a humbling moment indeed. The universe is simply awesome. It was a delicious peep into the darkest corner of the very womb of this universe.

Well the sensitive soul gets the same effect when the underbelly of our everyday dealings is unceremoniously exposed. Conning of talented jazz musicians is nothing new, as I would like to assure my good friend and the object of my unwavering adoration – the one and only Ms. Asha Puthli. The only jazz singer India has ever produced, and one doubts if a hundred generations would flit by before another one of the same calibre pops up. She is a living legend in the sense she has lent her husky but velvety voice to some really intriguing and mind-peeling numbers with the topmost in free jazz and other heavier genres like the avant-garde. Her work on the seminal album Science Fiction by Ornette Coleman has gone down in musical history as something nearly magical.

Hence it can surprise some quiet jazz fan who has assiduously kept his or her distance from the limelight and the hustle and bustle of show-biz. But those who have been reading jazz stuff very well know that double dealing, conning, gypping and ripping have been as much a part of the jazz culture [or other genres] as the saxophone or piano or improvisation. Those who have been close to the performing artistes know even better, the entire abominable sequence of conning and gypping in its myriad forms. Lyrics have been plagiarized, tunes quietly lifted, credits misappropriated, fees embezzled, royalties manipulated and comfortably truncated, and conspiracies hatched and executed against a lone artiste with devilish thoroughness.

Media has played its role of the unofficial ombudsman now and then. Many times in the hoary past media has perhaps gone for its forty blinks, when some terrible robbing of credit or cash took place –perchance there were more pressing matters to attend to, some new nova had burst on the scene or some spent supernova had exploded into controversy: excuses can be legion. It therefore smothers the very soul when one listens to such a legendary artiste complain about the heartlessness of the real world, the inexplicable ganging-up and bullying by record companies and their henchmen, the rather ungentlemanly attitude and arrogant behavior of the thief himself or herself, and the totally unforgivable silence on part of the media. One cannot expect magnanimity nor a gallantly generous attitude of the corporate world, who have invested billions of dollars in the music business, for their ethics and unwritten protocols lie beyond the pale of ordinary mortals. They work by a logic palpably underground, conceived in the cracks of space-time and hatched in darker chambers of the human mind. May be the Mafiosi only can get a Doctorate in such Machiavellian conspiracy conception and its meticulous execution without any fanfare...

Asha tells me that her songs have not only been gypped or lyrics ripped without even a cursory nod in her direction, an entire style of singing has been slyly misappropriated and thus she has been robbed of her rightful dues. Historical wrongs can be monumental in size: once the reading or listening public moves away in the relentless march of time, no one pays a second look to the poor suffering soul. That’s life, people will shrug their shoulders and be on their way for more fun.

Well when Napster burst on the scene with a blitzkrieg that left the recording companies gasp for oxygen, these normally at-each-others-throats rivals had joined hands in silencing the voice of the peer-to-peer network so effectively that the neutral observer was left out in the cold, left to wonder and wonder... but when a talented artiste complains that her innovation or invention has gone un-rewarded whilst the coffers of the thief are overflowing with ill-begotten wealth, some soul somewhere will bleed as it should. For instance Asha tells us the notorious B.I.G. CD released in 1997, by Puff Daddy's record label Bad Boy Records...( a double CD which went on to sell 11 million CD's ) has lifted her track 'SPACE TALK' taken from her 1976 LP ‘The Devil Is Loose' ( quite a hit with jazz critics, though it was funk and soul ) without any reference and without acquiring licensing rights from her.

Humanity breathes and lives, in these tiny gestures of solidarity: a tiny David hitting out at the incredibly huge Goliath. Recall that gutsy lady Erin Bronkovitch –fighting a lone battle against an intimidating Goliath is never impossible even a victory is not implausible, if the spirit is there.

Will the jazz fans and the jazz aficionados maintain a strictly unbroken silence on such issues which could be looked upon as sheer poison for the existence of healthy jazz, precious little seems possible. We all love our jazz artistes and their music, but then why do we bless them with apathy and be a part of this hugely cosmic conspiracy of silence? How long will the recording companies arm-twist the artistes to perform as per the whims and fancies of their own music experts or marketing executives? How long will the original innovators be ignored, till some rare but brave little companies gives him or her a golden break? How long will the precious dollar be centre-stage, devil take the hindmost when it comes to originality and innovation in well-established genres? Who will protect the once-worshipped trailblazers whose coffers are almost empty thanks mainly to the fiendishly complicated manipulations and ministrations of falsities by the corporate bodies? Where is all this leading us to? Why are we all silently suffering the mind-numbing new varieties of music which are like maggots on the carcass of good jazz that seems to have been dead for a while? Heard the phenomenon called remix? I had the misfortune of listening to what is called Nujazz [that’s new jazz for all you straight guys] which sounds rather like a shameless bastardisation of jazzy themes played in the latest rap-like rhythm and worse. If this is the future of Jazz, then there is little wonder why jazz buyers even now keep buying Miles Davis or Thelonius Monk. They too were gypped royally once upon a time. But that’s a hushed up segment of music history...shall we wake up then?

Cheerio, till next time.

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