Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Freedom of Choice

To my surprise, the original Jazz Bums blog entry set off a mini-firestorm online as it obviously touched the nerves of a few who are offended by the very idea of looking decent while performing, as well as others who are offended by the sound of my playing and/or music. At this point in my career, I am entirely aware of the fact that some or most of my work will not be considered favorable by many, and as that is a reality of the life of an artist, I accept it as a part of the journey. I will continue to create and offer what I think is quality work-borne of sincerity and integrity. I know that I simply can not please everyone. I also know that my views or solutions to the many problems that face the music are not the most popularly accepted ones either. Again, I will attempt to encourage discussion and welcome any that are interested into traveling the road towards resolve in the best way that I can. There will be many detractors and opponents who will also take advantage of (or even abuse) various internet capabilities to espouse their opinions and ideas. This is also an unavoidable part of the reality.

In another blog that I used to contribute to, trumpeter Sean Jones and I once had a dialog running concurrently about the ongoing dress and style issue. It was but one of many problems that face the music and by no means, the most important one. There were many welcomed responses to our position – most of them favorable, some not. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be opponents to just about every opinion and ideology that exists. However, there were a number of posts from some cat who used his 15 minutes as an opportunity to bring up a truly dead issue -  an old and heavily edited blindfold test that I did over 20 years ago (!) where some unfavorable and erroneous comments about Eric Dolphy that I allegedly said were printed. For some reason he took those comments, (which I did not, and never would say) as some sort of misguided affront to HIS playing or life or something I can’t be entirely sure of since he, like myself, has surely never even met Eric Dolphy. It amazes me when people get offended and take personal issue with statements that don’t wholeheartedly support their favorite musicians. Some get downright hostile and unnecessarily offensive. Frankly speaking, I could care less what someone thinks about another artist, or about me, for that matter. Everyone has preferences and opinions so whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes.

Since I have this opportunity to publicly address and hopefully, correct those misstatements, let me state for the record that the Dolphy comments were recklessly printed without any of the support statements or information that I generously offered nor did it include any nods toward my actual set of influences on my instrument (Earl Bostic, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Konitz) It was actually printed as an effort to incite readers, and it succeeded, because to this day, people still unnecessarily make mention of it. As a progressive musician, I have never felt that I should be obligated or even expected to respond favorably or to blindly accept everything that my predecessors have done, merely because many others do or because it is the usual course taken. Simply stated, there are a great many artists that frankly do not have the same impact on me as others and I don’t feel compelled to worship them as many  have chosen to do  – just because they played with or were favorably endorsed by “so and so”. They were human beings, and I don’t worship anyone – especially to the point where if someone doesn’t “like” them as much as I do, I should find their inability to acknowledge that artist’s greatness to be personally disturbing. Nothing could be more ridiculous. People should be able to make their own decisions.

Could it be possible that I just don't “hear” Dolphy? That very well could be the case. I recall how, some 30 years ago, saxophonist Steve Coleman would repeatedly encourage me to check out Von Freeman, Henry Threadgill,  Sam Rivers and several others. He would suggest that I listen more deeply, give them a chance and to not be so immediately dismissive. With limited patience, I didn’t have a positive reaction to them initially and actually was very resistant to their approaches to playing and composing music until I finally “heard” what they were doing in my own time, without being goaded or “forced” into liking them. After living with their music for a while and investigating their works on my own, I was then able to comprehend the genius that lay within. I just didn’t need someone telling me I “had” to dig them because it was my duty as a jazz saxophonist to do so. That’s a sure-fire formula which will almost guarantee that the target will hate what they’re being force-fed entirely. Ask any child who was forced into music lessons. However, once I "got" it, I was hooked. I had the same reaction when I first heard the wonderful pianist and composers, Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams. I was resistant at first, but I absolutely came around in my own time. So much so, that I'm proud to say that their influence on me as an artist is irrefutable and I treasure my extensive time and work with them both.

Some of my friends absolutely love the music of Eric Dolphy and have also been offended, dumbfounded, even mortified, by my failure to wholeheartedly embrace/worship his playing.  Countless numbers of players have questioned me repeatedly about why I couldn’t get into it. I have always tried to be respectful, yet detailed about my position. I have carefully transcribed and analyzed many of his improvisations from various points in his career. (I actually happen to have a running fascination with his compositions, however. I do appreciate them very much. It’s the nature of his saxophone playing that doesn’t make it for me. Again, I have the deepest respect for anyone who chooses to expand upon their idea of what they believe to be right. My opinions are most certainly not criticisms by any measure). My conclusions have always been the same and I have also unsuccessfully attempted to convert many, MANY musicians into appreciating some artists that have served as sources of great enjoyment for myself.  I know how frustrating it can be when others don’t “get it”.  However, I would also contend that the option of being able to choose one’s artistic influences and the ability of being able to coral those favorable elements into a systematic style which reflects their influence, is exactly what makes music great, because I strongly feel that no artist should develop from the exact same pool of influences as anyone else. As an educator, I see this to be a tremendous problem. (Most young saxophonists today copy every nuance of Kenny Garrett or Chris Potter; guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel – pianists, Brad Meldau, etc….) The same applies to the legions of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Michael Brecker copyists who limited their potential (or worse) by vesting so much into one or a few resources.

I have performed with a great many musicians who have, in one fashion or another,  revealed their disdain for another artist’s sound, compositions or purpose entirely. There have been those who have proclaimed outright that perhaps they didn’t care for someone who I personally thought may have been an outright genius ( I try not to use that term very often). Unlike the scathing comments left online by a few angry souls who are in no position to criticize me OR my choices, I prefer to allow those who disagree with me the courtesy of having a different opinion. I wouldn’t even expect anyone to be in full accord with my tastes in art and literature, which can be broad and entirely eclectic. I thought this was, or should be, considered normal.

So, if anyone knows the location of the official mandate which declares that a musician must like and without resistance, accept everything that preceded him, I’d like to be made aware of it.  I was very specific why I didn't care for what was played for me. It wasn't an outright dismissal, nor was it done out of disrespect for the man’s artistry. But I am well within my right to accept or reject whatever I choose, especially when I have done the work in transcribing and analyzing the components of that work for myself – in an effort to figure out exactly why it doesn’t work for me or why so many others like it. I have the same feeling for several other great players who simply don’t ring my bell – and I’m referring to certain masters of the craft.  I was taught long ago that it was acceptable (and expected) to have a firm opinion and to make strong decisions. I know far too well that many don’t dig my work either and I totally understand and can deal with their choice not to. It’s just the way things are. But with this in mind, how does someone who can’t even play at all nor has any personal relationship with Eric Dolphy benefit by writing garbage about me on their blog, just because I asked an interviewer to move on to the next example?  All I can honestly say is that I hope that the guy found satisfaction from what he wrote. No good will come from it and since I know there’s a lot of work to be done, I’ll focus my energies in those directions. There’s a lot of great music that hasn’t been written or played yet. THAT’s where the attention and focus should lie - not getting bent out of shape because our opinions don’t match. Freedom to choose varied sets of influences all but guarantees that music and performances will be rich in variety and perspective.