[JPL] Clive Davis article - The saviors of jazz may be hot newsingers, n...

louisx at verizon.net louisx at verizon.net
Thu Nov 16 20:58:07 EST 2006


This is all too intellectual. Vocalists are popular because in the end 
musical entertainment is about sex, and vocalists have appeal because they 
are right out there speaking to the audience. A lot of modern jazz has lost 
that sex appeal.  Bird's music was sexy, Mile's music was sexy. Sure,  it 
was intellectually challenging too, and that gives it longevity, but when 
Miles, Mingus, Parker, Monk and all the others hit, there was drive, sex and 
eccentricity to spare. Personality. We need more of that.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Lisa Markley" <txmalvina at yahoo.com>
To: "Jazz Programmers Mailing List" <jazzproglist at jazzweek.com>
Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2006 8:13 PM
Subject: Re: [JPL] Clive Davis article - The saviors of jazz may be hot 
newsingers, n...


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> Wow--what a can of worms.
>
> Just a few thoughts...
>
> Perhaps the popularity of vocalists to Joe Q Public is due to the 
> marketing of the big labels.  For example, check out any Patricia Barber 
> cd and you'll hear some great original compositions, truly unique versions 
> of standards--mainly vocals (and what a voice), and a taste of her piano 
> chops.  Go to a live show and you really get to hear what an incredible 
> instrumentalist she is.  You also get treated to a little singing. And the 
> live audience is there hanging on to every wordless note.  Seems the 
> record companies understand that your record buyer (unlike perhaps the 
> most avid jazz fan) does not have the patience or attention span for 
> instrumental music alone.  They buy more cd's when the music is in song 
> form.  (Just ask my mother)
>
> As for vocalists not being respected as musicians, I think the ones who 
> have really done the work do get the respect they deserve.  The voice is 
> the first instrument.  There are no pads, valves, keys or slides...but to 
> really nail note, a series of notes, arpeggios, chromatic 
> passages--whatever--takes alot of skill.  Gotta hear it before you play 
> it.  It won't just lay nicely under the fingers as it does for other 
> instruments.
>
> Another question would be, are vocalists who improvise (Such as Kurt 
> Elling, or Ella for that matter?) worthy of more respect than a pure 
> song-stylist?  How important is the song in today's jazz?
>
> lm
>
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> SUNDAY TIMES, 12th Nov 2006
> There is a story about Miles Davis that tells you something about the 
> uneasy
> relationship between musicians and singers. Many years ago, as Lorraine
> Gordon, co-owner of that Manhattan landmark the Village Vanguard, recalls 
> in
> her memoirs, Davis was in the middle of a residency when Gordon¹s husband,
> Max, asked if he would accompany a promising new vocalist. Davis, brusque 
> as
> ever, turned him down flat. ³I don¹t play behind no girl singers,² he
> rasped. And that was that. The young woman < whose name was Barbra 
> Streisand
> < was left to search for other paths to glory.
> In fact, Davis did make a point of championing the elegant singer-pianist
> Shirley Horn. But, by and large, the division he evokes, between
> serious-minded instrumentalists and decorative vocalists, still holds 
> firm.
> Jazz history is sold as a succession of towering soloists < from Charlie
> Parker to John Coltrane < with most singers allotted the role of supplying
> the fripperies for the 52nd Street equivalent of the tired businessman.
> There are important exceptions to that broad-brush rule < Billie Holiday
> comes instantly to mind < but the critical consensus has been that the 
> heavy
> lifting is done by the men with the horns and the pianos.
>
> But is that really the case now? Coltrane, the last undisputed giant in 
> the
> instrumental field, has been dead for nearly 40 years. Since then, jazz 
> has
> stubbornly clung to its minority share of the listening public. Given the
> dearth of radio airplay and its near invisibility on mainstream TV, it is
> miraculous that the music has any public profile at all. Jazz musicians
> rightly point the finger at our obsession with celebrity culture and X
> Factor wannabes.
> Yet what if the players themselves are partly to blame? What if they are
> failing to reach out to the potential audience? Such questions are seldom
> raised in public, which was why recent comments by the saxophonist 
> Branford
> Marsalis in The New York Times made such fascinating reading. A member of
> America¹s most famous jazz family < the trumpeter Wynton is his younger
> brother < Marsalis has led a curious dual career, blowing molten choruses 
> in
> select clubs while also jamming with Sting and leading the house band on
> that late-night American institution The Tonight Show.
>
> He has always had a reputation for speaking his mind, yet his remarks were
> astonishingly frank: ³Musicians are always talking about, OWhy isn¹t jazz
> popular?¹,² he wrote. ³But musicians today are completely devoid of
> charisma. People never really liked the music in the first place. So now 
> you
> have musicians who are proficient at playing instruments, and people sit
> there, and it¹s just boring to them < because they¹re trying to see
> something or feel it.²
>
> Sad but, in many cases, all too true. Which is where singers enjoy an
> advantage. While the instrumentalists chase ever more abstruse 
> combinations
> of chords, vocalists are left to build meaning out of that most basic
> element < words. Instead of seeing them as somehow second-class citizens, 
> we
> need to encourage them to become the new avant-garde.
>
> Look around the popular-music scene and there is an undeniable hunger for
> the virtues of grown-up songs. Which explains Michael Parkinson¹s 
> emergence
> as one of the important new tastemakers in jazz. ³Will Parky play it on
> Radio 2?² is the question bouncing around countless record-company 
> offices.
> The rise of Madeleine Peyroux, the American gamine with a gift for fusing
> Lady Day phrases with sensual blues-jazz riffs, owes much to what you 
> could
> call the Parkinson effect. The broadcaster¹s gastropub, the Royal Oak, set
> in the Berkshire countryside a few miles from his home, has become a kind 
> of
> home-counties answer to Ronnie Scott¹s, regularly playing host to hugely
> promising performers, including Clare Teal and the gospel-inflected 
> American
> newcomer Lizz Wright.
>
> Parkinson¹s endorsement is no guarantee of success: for instance, despite
> all the airplay for the clean-cut American singer-pianist Peter Cincotti,
> his last album achieved disappointing sales. A promising, if slightly
> airbrushed talent, Cincotti had the misfortune to arrive on the scene at
> roughly the same time as the more rumbustious Jamie Cullum. Most purists
> loathe the young man from the West Country; much of his material, it has 
> to
> be said, is closer to pop than jazz. But, at his best, the mischievous
> showman at least reminds us that, during its most productive years, jazz 
> was
> an integral part of the entertainment industry.
>
> Parkinson¹s preferences reflect the tastes of the Saga generation, hence 
> the
> bias towards adept but anodyne entertainers such as the big-band pin-up
> Michael Bublé, the Sinatra-style crooner Steve Tyrell and the technically
> flawless Jane Monheit. But there are edgier performers out there. Gwyneth
> Herbert and Lianne Carroll patrol the unmarked territory lying between pop
> and jazz, while one of the best of the newcomers is Cormac Kenevey, a 
> young
> Irishman who bears the influence of Harry Connick Jr, yet possesses his 
> own
> brand of beatnik charisma < as he proved during an imposing Soho club 
> debut
> earlier this year. His first album, This Is Living, was released on 
> Candid,
> the label that propelled Cullum into the limelight. The company¹s owner,
> Alan Bates, a man with a shrewd eye, has also signed the mesmerising 
> French
> vocalist Mina Agossi, a kittenish nonconformist who has created her own
> intelligent form of acoustic drum¹ n¹bass.
>
> Agossi demonstrates that it¹s possible to combine innovation and respect 
> for
> the tradition, as does that rowdy, self-styled ³dyke² comedian turned 
> bopper
> Lea DeLaria. A DeLaria show is not for the faint-hearted: women sitting
> close to the stage are in danger of being subjected to serious french
> kissing. But beneath the burlesque exterior, there is an astute musical
> mind. An improviser who cites Coltrane as her prime influence, DeLaria is 
> a
> long way from easy listening, yet on an album such as Double Standards, 
> she
> shows that it really is possible to turn Blondie¹s Call Me into an
> out-and-out swinger.
>
> A much cooler presence, Norway¹s Solveig Slettahjell has brought a pensive
> Scandinavian aura to a repertoire that ranges from Tom Waits to Cole 
> Porter
> and John Hiatt. She plays the London Jazz Festival on Friday.
>
> One of the biggest jazz acts in America, Cassandra Wilson, also appears at
> the festival tomorrow. Wilson, though, has been treading water of late,
> which is why I am much more excited about the arrival at Ronnie Scott¹s
> later this month of that enigmatic, Chicago-based singer-pianist Patricia
> Barber. While Diana Krall has been deservedly cleaning up on the romantic
> front, Barber opts for much darker and more challenging material. (Gotcha,
> perhaps her best song, is a fantasy about a cheated wife¹s thoughts of
> revenge.) Barber¹s latest disc, Mythologies, is her most ambitious yet, a
> song cycle inspired by Ovid¹s Metamorphoses. The notion sounds impossibly
> pretentious; she and her band transform it into a funky, bluesy triumph.
>
> Two other Americans are busily making nonsense of traditional categories.
> Kurt Elling < many critics¹ choice as the finest male singer around at the
> moment < blends poetry, urbane scat and laid-back standards. Meanwhile,
> Curtis Stigers, a 1990s pop idol who has brilliantly reinvented himself in
> the jazz-blues idiom, continues his mission to win over the more hidebound
> reviewers.
>
> A commercial background has always aroused the suspicion of the jazz 
> police,
> yet Stigers will, I suspect, win the battle in the long run.
>
> None of this means that instrumentalists are redundant. Far from it. The
> point, though, is that the music as a whole needs to strike a better 
> balance
> between self- expression and conservatory-level self-indulgence. Jazz is
> good at shooting itself in the foot, but to continue underplaying the role
> of vocalists would be the ultimate self-inflicted injury. Time, in short, 
> to
> stop sneering about girl singers and give artists their due.
>
>
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