All About Jazz

Home » Articles » The Jazz Life


Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz

Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz
Peter Rubie By

Sign in to view read count
Perhaps the best thing that can come from the fall of people like Cosby and Weinstein, Rose and perhaps Chuck Close is that we’re forced to reexamine our world, and create new art and music that reflects how we have grown as a society, but without abandoning the artistic observations of those who have come before.
Bill Cosby's deserved fall from Grace, perhaps more than anyone else's—and there has been a dizzying final reckoning for a bunch of them—has really hit me. I've been trying to figure out why that is and it's not obvious. But I think it's partly about how the accusations against Chuck Close have been handled. The problem is not whether or not these guys should be defended—it's the more profound issue of whether we can or should separate the artist from his or her work.

Some context: Museums around the world are wrestling this year with the National Gallery of Art in Washington's decision in January (2018), to indefinitely postpone a Chuck Close exhibition because of allegations of sexual harassment against him. He has called the allegations "lies." Nothing necessarily new there. Close is considered the most important portrait artist of the late 20th Century, however. He basically reinvented it, making him a kind of Louis Armstrong or John Coltrane of portraiture.

The postponement has raised difficult questions in the art world about what to do about Chuck Close paintings and photographs held by museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate in London and the Pompidou in Paris, and whether the work of other artists accused of questionable conduct needs to be revisited. Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery, told the New York Times) "He innovated how the portrait could be seen. That is a creative force that's got to be reckoned with and will endure."

Lest you think this is guys closing ranks to protect other guys, the Times piece also quoted Sheena Wagstaff, the Met's chairman for Modern and contemporary art.

"By canceling an exhibition or removing art from the walls, a museum is creating an understanding of an artist's work only through the prism of reprehensible behavior... If we only see abuse when looking at a work of art, then we have... stripped [art] of its intrinsic worth..."

I grew up in an era that predated Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. Cultural cynicism was considered edgy and radical and came from people like Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, and the British satirical magazine Private Eye, all of which I eagerly embraced. But it was balanced by iconic hero worship in actors like Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Katherine Hepburn that seemed (in a wobbly way) to point us in the right direction as individuals, even when the behavior of those heroes does not stand much close scrutiny. (It was still too early for most jazz fans, for example, to know or care who Mary Lou Williams was. Her rediscovery would come some years later.)

I remember going to Ronnie Scott's Club in London, in the mid-1970s, and watching Stan Getz's band which included guitarist Chuck Loeb. It was Chuck's turn to take a solo. As he played, Getz walked over and stood an arm's length from him and blew cigar smoke into his face! Loeb complained as only a musician can. He turned up even louder, and went from jazz mode to heavy metal.

Ronnie Scott famously told friends he got his slipped disk bending over backwards to please Stan Getz. He would introduce him to audiences by saying, "Ladies and gentleman, whatever Stan wants—Stan Getz."

Jazz historian Digby Fairweather said about Bix Beiderbecke (Jazz: The Rough Guide, (Penguin)) that he was, ..."a man of enormous talent but meager character or self-discipline, and his creative despair, induced by technical inadequacy and lack of vision, made him take refuge in alcohol."

Journalist Miles Kingston in the Independent newspaper interviewed Pete King (the guy who ran Ronnie Scott's for years, not the saxophonist of similar name). Pete said, "You can generally tell the character of saxophonists from their tone. The rougher they sound, the sweeter they are in real life. The guys who play with a gritty, attacking tone, as hot as you like, are always the nice ones. It's the ones who sounds so lush who turn out to be the ruffians. Remember Don Byas? Lovely sweet tone? Seductive sound? When he came to the club, he kept pulling knives on people. And who do you think is the most sweet-sounding tenor saxophonist of all?"

"I thought. Ben Webster? When he played slowly, he was ravishing. But when he played fast, he had a quite different, scorching tone. Obviously a split personality there. Mr. Nice and Nasty in the same person. So it had to be... Stan Getz! Stan Getz had the most voluptuous sound of any tenor player that ever lived, silky and strong, totally mesmeric.

"Stan Getz," I said. He nodded.

"He was without doubt the most unpleasant and disagreeable person who ever played at Ronnie Scott's. Everyone loathed him."


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz The Jazz Life
Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz
by Peter Rubie
Published: May 15, 2018
Read Intermission Riff: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cat The Jazz Life
Intermission Riff: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cat
by Anthony Glass
Published: April 16, 2018
Read Getting Past (E)Go The Jazz Life
Getting Past (E)Go
by Peter Rubie
Published: March 21, 2018
Read Telling Stories and Singing Songs The Jazz Life
Telling Stories and Singing Songs
by Peter Rubie
Published: February 26, 2018
Read "Telling Stories and Singing Songs" The Jazz Life Telling Stories and Singing Songs
by Peter Rubie
Published: February 26, 2018
Read "Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz" The Jazz Life Indecent Heroes and All That Jazz
by Peter Rubie
Published: May 15, 2018
Read "Getting Past (E)Go" The Jazz Life Getting Past (E)Go
by Peter Rubie
Published: March 21, 2018
Read "2017 Montclair Jazz Festival" In Pictures 2017 Montclair Jazz Festival
by Richard Conde
Published: August 17, 2017
Read "Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981" Extended Analysis Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read "Six on Cellar Live" Bailey's Bundles Six on Cellar Live
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 19, 2018
Read "Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene" Interviews Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: September 6, 2017
Read "Remembering John Abercrombie" Interviews Remembering John Abercrombie
by Craig Jolley
Published: August 23, 2017
Read "Seven woMEN 2018 – Part III" Bailey's Bundles Seven woMEN 2018 – Part III
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 8, 2018