"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
You're relaxing at home after a hard day's work listening to your favorite jazz station. The deejay announces John Coltrane's "Acknowledgement." You must have heard it a thousand times, but a smile crosses your lips as you anticipate the pulsating gong introducing Trane's majestic cry. But something's gone wrong. The laser has somehow found the middle of the piece and Trane's familiar chant of "A Love Supreme is the first thing you hear. Trane's voice is oddly thickened and after chanting the line twice, it becomes clear to you that the CD is defective as "A Love Sup... A Love Sup... A Love Sup... repeats itself over and over. Your expectation of when the engineer is going to realize that a defective CD is the culprit begins to wane when you hear the "tsik-tsik-pah of a drum machine instead of Elvin's graceful drum-song. Garrison's hypnotic ostinato has been replaced by some cornball Bootsy imitation. Underneath it all, the plaintive theme is a wordless "La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la by one of those endless 3-female groups.
A ridiculous notion? Not if the knuckleheads at Impulse/Verve continue on their cynical, disrespectful and hypocritical path.
If A Love Supreme
isn't your personal ideal, transfer the same distortion to Duke's Tone Parallel to Harlem
, Bird's Koko
, Pops' Hot Fives and Sevens
, Hawk's Body and Soul
, Miles' Kind of Blue
or whatever other immortal masterpieces hold that treasured place in the deepest part of your souls. For those of you who may harbor George Russell, Charles Mingus, Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and many others in that spot, this twisted scenario is already a despicable reality.
At a time when madmen on both sides of their self-imposed battle lines destroy the lives of innocents in the name of their respective gods; and insatiable greed sucks the future out of 95% of the world, I've personally found it difficult these days to feel intense anger over the consistently reprehensible practices of the music business. But I must grudgingly give credit to the assortment of weasels, phonies, cynics and misguided fools involved in these remix travesties for being able to so successfully rankle my ass.
There's long been a reasonable notion that calling any attention, negative or positive, to something you may feel is contemptible only increases its power. So, it's with a certain amount of that concern that I write this about the dreadful Verve Unmixed/Remixed
Series and its ugly twin at Impulse called Impulsive!
. But there are three reasons why it's essential to write this piece.
Firstthe music business has always been able to deprive its artists of money, credit, opportunity, visibility, hope and spirit, but it's never been able to steal the integrity of an artist unwilling to sacrifice it. Until now. This hits particularly at my heart as my longtime mentor, friend and client, legendary composer/theoretician/visionary George Russell
is one of the victims. At a time when his glorious 2-CD set The 80th Birthday Concert
has just been released, a distortion of "A Helluva Town," part of his historic "New York, New York" suite is in direct competition. (We'll go into the hypocrisy about Verve/Impulse's justification for all of this as a desire to promote these artists' original music a little later.)
This is a man whose personal integrity and unflinching commitment to his singular vision has made him artistic royalty in other countries, but a terrifying and intimidating presence in his own. When Lincoln Center opened discussions to feature him around his 80th birthday, I presented to him all of the valid reasons why it could be economically and promotionally valuable. (Hey, that's my job.) His response was "to perform at Lincoln Center would be a validation of what it represents; and would violate everything I've stood for throughout my life.
That folks, is called integrity, whether you agree with him or don't. Nobody has the right to violate thatespecially some label which is still thriving only due to the 40 year-old legacy of another man of absolute integrity, John Coltrane. Even Coltrane's integrity is distorted in this CD package as his name is bandied about shamelessly in Ashley Kahn's liner notes, pathetically attempting to justify these violations as in some manner honoring Trane's own pursuit of discovery and evolution.