Inhuman Swill : March 2006

Where the money goes

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

We were having an email discussion with some friends about what musicians we like are Scientologists. It started at Chick Corea, but by the time it got around to Beck our friends were asking if this means the money they spend on Beck albums might end up in L. Ron Hubbard's skeletal hands, and if they should be concerned by this. I said:

I'm sure that's what it means, yes. But part of your money will also go to getting Beck's children braces, and organic soy milk, and some of it will end up in the pockets of evil record company executives. I guess my feeling is that all the money we spend will eventually pass through hands we don't approve of, the same way all the atoms in our bodies will eventually recycle through other people and animals and trees and clouds and landfills. I guess I look at the pool of available money as a closed ecosystem, and some of it will always be in the hands of organizations we don't like. But it won't necessarily stay there. It will keep cycling and maybe do some good too.

I feel like money to Beck is a reward for talent, and for giving me some aural pleasure. ("Heh heh, he said aural pleasure.") I feel better about rewarding talent, even if the talent might give the money to L. Ron Hubbard Inc., than I do about giving money to faceless companies like Blockbuster and Land's End (is that right?) that donate huge amounts of money to causes I dislike. I can go elsewhere for videos or yuppie hippie clothing, but I can't go anywhere else for Beck music.

What do you think?

Medical emergency on the downtown 6 uptown this morning, messing up subway service roundly. I keep forgetting why I hate coming to work during rush hour.

Anyway, I had another lovely U.N. night last night in Astoria. Actually it started right after work in Murray Hill, where I went to Artisanal for mostly French cheeses and white wines with an out-of-town colleague and his wife. The best cheese we sampled was the Bleu de Basque from French Basque country. Yum. One wine from our flight had gone bad—full of sediment and tasting very thin—and our waitress promptly replaced it with a similar Spanish wine. Yum.

Later that evening, back home in Astoria, Laura and I walked over to an Irish pub called The Quays that we'd been meaning to try for some time. (Sadly, there was no live music, though I have it that Shane McGowan of the Pogues has appeared there in the past.) But when I say Irish pub, I mean Irish pub—I.R.A. ballads on the stereo and the whole nine yards. We might have had the only American accents in the place, and Laura was one of only three females. The third female, by the way, was a young pug named Lucky (yes, a dog) whose owner was feeding her Guinness from a plastic cup. The Guinness was four bucks a pint, and we had a great time. We'll have to come back when there's music.

Laura was hungry on the walk home, so we stopped at a place called Ukus, offering Balkan pie, for a late dinner. We each had a huge pizza-like slice of spinach pie, and the nice owners brought us each a mug of a cold, thick, sour, yogurty drink the name of which I can't now recall, on the house. They told us that this drink goes with the pie, and damn if it didn't. We watched American Inventor on the wide-screen televisions as we ate. I went home feeling happy and full, but poor Laura had a stomachache by the time we were greeting the dog again.

Sometimes I hate our neighborhood and sometimes I love it. This was one of the love-it nights.


| No Comments | No TrackBacks

It seems that and the usually ultra-reliable (my Web host) are completely inaccessible this morning. Wondering if it was just a local DNS problem, I VNC'd to my work machine and tried from there. No go. No word on how long the outage will last, since of course I can't get to for email or news on the subject. I'm hoping it's just a bad DNS table at some important node between here and there and not something more serious.

Update:  We're back. If you sent email in the last hour or so, it might not have gone through.

Badly drawn boys

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

I'm afraid I'm compelled to filch the link to this news brief from the redoubtable [info]asphalteden:

Science-Fiction Novel Posits Future Where Characters Are Hastily Sketched

That's our issue!

Do you read well aloud? Do you know how to record your own MP3s? If so, you should think about volunteering with LibraVox:

LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain, and then we release the audio files back onto the net (podcast and catalog). Our objective is to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet. We are a totally volunteer, open source, free content, public domain project.
I wanted to volunteer for a chapter of Three Men in a Boat, but they are all claimed!

Two more older stories have gone on sale at this week, by the way: "Colin and Ishmael in the Dark" and "Divided by Time." Get 'em! They're cheap!

Pod Metheny Group

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

In more enlightening news, Pat Metheny has a video podcast!

Not so big love

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Dooce this week has a terrific post about the new HBO drama Big Love and the legacy of Mormon polygamy in general. You won't be surprised to hear that I sympathize with her in many particulars. (My comment is #245.)

Because poor Kenny G seems to come in for abuse in this blog from time to time, I thought it might be fun to revisit what I consider one of the greatest examples of musician-on-musician slagging in the history of jazz writing: guitar giant Pat Metheny putting the hurt on well-known sax-noodler Kenny "G" Gorelick.

The material below was many years ago deleted from the Pat Metheny Group web site. Pat himself posted it in response to a fairly innocent question in the fan forum there no later than 2000, and I'm glad I saved a copy because it somehow vanished within the year. I've added capitalization to the text since Pat didn't seem to want to bother with the shift-key. Despite the fact that the sentence-by-sentence writing here sometimes falters, Pat is clearly articulate on the topic of jazz and very passionate.

Full disclosure: I've been a rabid fan of Pat Metheny since at least age 15. And even though I cut my teeth on smooth jazz (my first album purchase having been Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione), I've never ever been able to stomach Kenny G's "music."

So over to Pat.

Pat, could you tell us your opinion about Kenny G -- it appears you were quoted as being less than enthusiastic about him and his music. I would say that most of the serious music listeners in the world would not find your opinion surprising or unlikely -- but you were vocal about it for the first time. You are generally supportive of other musicians it seems.
Pat's Answer:
Kenny G is not a musician I really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. There was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records. I first heard him a number of years ago playing as a sideman with Jeff Lorber when they opened a concert for my band. My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop-oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic-based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble -- Lorber was basically playing him off the bandstand in terms of actual music. But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs -- never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again) . The other main thing I noticed was that he also, as he does to this day, played horribly out of tune -- consistently sharp.

Of course, I am aware of what he has played since, the success it has had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and serious listeners. This controversy seems to be largely fueled by the fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years.

And honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially, especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisers and musicians in general have trouble just making a living. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments. It would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

Having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz musicians (myself included, given the right "bait" of a question, as i will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what he is playing is not even jazz at all.

Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners *would* normally quantify as being jazz. It's just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians. So, lately I have been advocating that we go ahead and just include it under the word jazz -- since pretty much of the rest of the world *outside* of the jazz community does anyway -- and let the chips fall where they may.

And after all, why he should be judged by any other standard, why he should be exempt from that that all other serious musicians on his instrument are judged by if they attempt to use their abilities in an improvisational context playing with a rhythm section as he does? He *should* be compared to John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter, for instance, on his abilities (or lack thereof) to play the soprano saxophone and his success (or lack thereof) at finding a way to deploy that instrument in an ensemble in order to accurately gauge his abilities and put them in the context of his instrument's legacy and potential.

As a composer of even eighth-note based music, he *should* be compared to Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver or, even, Grover Washington. Suffice it to say, on all above counts, at this point in his development, he wouldn't fare well.

But, like I said at the top, this relatively benign view was all (until recently). Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year-old Louis Armstrong record, the track "What a Wonderful World." With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can't use at all -- as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

This type of musical necrophilia -- the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers -- was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on "Unforgettable" a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. When Larry Coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a Wes Montgomery track, I lost a lot of the respect that I ever had for him -- and I have to seriously question the fact that I did have respect for someone who could turn out to have have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.

But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo-bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped-out, fucked-up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. By disrespecting Louis, his legacy, and by default everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture -- something that we all should be totally embarrassed about -- and afraid of. We ignore this, let it slide, at our own peril.

His callous disregard for the larger issues of what this crass gesture implies is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason he possibly have for doing something this inherently wrong (on both human and musical terms) was for the record sales and the money it would bring.

Since that record came out -- in protest, as insignificant as it may be -- I encourage everyone to boycott Kenny G recordings, concerts and anything he is associated with. If asked about Kenny G, I will dis him and his music with the same passion that is in evidence in this little essay.

Normally, I feel that musicians all have a hard enough time, regardless of their level, just trying to play good and don't really benefit from public criticism, particularly from their fellow players. But this is different.

There *are* some things that are sacred -- and amongst any musician that has ever attempted to address jazz at even the most basic of levels, Louis Armstrong and his music is hallowed ground. To ignore this trespass is to agree that *nothing* any musician has attempted to do with their life in music has any intrinsic value -- and I refuse to do that. (I am also amazed that there *hasn't* already been an outcry against this among music critics -- where *are* they on this?????!?!?!?! -- magazines, etc.). Everything I said here is exactly the same as what I would say to Gorelick if I ever saw him in person. And if I ever *do* see him anywhere, at any function -- he *will* get a piece of my mind (and maybe a guitar wrapped around his head).

NOTE:  This post is partially in response to the comments that people have made regarding a short video interview excerpt with me that was posted on the internet taken from a TV show for young people (kind of like MTV) in Poland where I was asked to address 8 to 11 year old kids on terms that they could understand about jazz.

While enthusiastically describing the virtues of this great area of music, I was encouraging the kids to find and listen to some of the greats in the music and not to get confused by the sometimes overwhelming volume of music that falls under the jazz umbrella. I went on to say that I think that for instance, "Kenny G plays the dumbest music on the planet" -- something that all 8 to 11 year kids on the planet already intrinsically know, as anyone who has ever spent any time around kids that age could confirm -- so it gave us some common ground for the rest of the discussion. (ADDENDUM: The only thing wrong with the statement that I made was that I did not include the rest of the known universe.)

The fact that this clip was released so far out of the context that it was delivered in is a drag, but it is now done. (Its unauthorized release out of context like that is symptomatic of the new electronically interconnected culture that we now live in -- where pretty much anything anyone anywhere has ever said or done has the potential to become common public property at any time.) I was surprised by the Polish people putting this clip up so far away from the use that it was intended -- really just for the attention -- with no explanation of the show it was made for -- they (the Polish people in general) used to be so hip and would have been unlikely candidates to do something like that before, but I guess everything is changing there like it is everywhere else.

The only other thing that surprised me in the aftermath of the release of this little interview is that *anyone* would be even a little bit surprised that I would say such a thing, given the reality of Mr. G's music. This makes me want to go practice about 10 times harder, because that suggests to me that I am not getting my own musical message across clearly enough -- which to me, in every single way and intention, is diametrically opposed to what Kenny G seems to be after.

ShunnCast #12

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Epidode #12 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which I fly to Canada for my first day of service as a Mormon missionary, but before departing perform amazing feats of transubstantiation upon an ordinary chewing gum wrapper.

ShunnCast #11 was accessed over 1,300 times after the BoingBoing link, producing a 30 Gb bandwidth spike. My monthly bandwidth limit is 40 Gb, so I'm very anxious to see how many of those listeners continue on as regular subscribers. File under "Getting what you ask for."

See also [info]shunncast.

Featured Book

William Shunn

About This Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2006 is the previous archive.

April 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.