Before You Point Your Finger at Fellow Musicians, You Should Smell it First
I found Jay Jackson’s L.A. Jazz.Com review of the open-mic and jam session held at the Industry Café in Culver City, Ca both condescending and less than productive. It left me wondering about his agenda. Is the point of his column to promote jazz in the Los Angeles area, or simply to promote himself? Mr. Jackson, who pursues singing, acting, and journalism, comes off in his article as though he has an image of himself as the consummate professional assessing the potential of the “little people” as he looks down from his perch atop Mt. Olympus.
I was immediately put off by his description of Rose Gales’ quartet as “Gales and her merry men of jazz.” Rose Gales’ (widow of the late, great, Thelonious Monk bassist, Larry Gales) group was made up of dead-serious musicians all, and I can’t think of any group of serious professionals who wants to be referred to as a “merry group” of anything. The phrase suggests a condescending attitude toward not only the entire group, but their level of professionalism. I doubt very seriously that Jackson would refer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra as “Gustavo Dudamel and his merry group of fiddlers.” That may seem nitpicky on my part, but it’s offhanded slights such as this that forges a negative subliminal perception among the people toward jazz, one of the world’s great art forms. It’s also responsible for some of the greatest musicians in the world having to drive cabs for a living. So frankly, I resent it.
And speaking of condescension and nitpicking, Jackson’s column was filled with “slapliments” and totally unnecessary negativity toward the other performers as well. At one point he said, “Speaking of fun, Lindarella (Linda Saito) showed up for a few selections. While not possessing the best voice, she certainly knows fun. Her version of “Kansas City” and “Isn’t It Romantic” brought smiles as she got through the two classics.”
“Showed up?” “While not possessing the best voice?” “She GOT THROUGH the two classics?” By who’s standards is he judging this lady? Did Billie Holiday or Eddie Jefferson have the greatest voices in jazz? I don’t think so, yet they both contributed more to jazz than some of the greatest voices in the world.
Jackson even went so far as to criticize some of the musicians’ manner of dress. He said, “In closing, it’s a good night when open mic crowds nearly fill a restaurant, as was the case. Perhaps that might encourage some of the band members to dress a bit more appropriately for the occasion. Blue jeans and wrinkled shirts may work for the local grunge band, but for jazz it’s bad form.”
In response, I’d like to suggest that if Bird, Dexter Gordon, or Trane could return to share their artistry I wouldn’t care if they showed up in their pajamas. Bud Powell was known to show up with one pant leg rolled up to the knee. Thus, it’s a musician’s artistry that counts, not his or her sartorial splendor. I’ve seen industry-promoted musicians show up at the Grammys wearing untied tennis shoes, pants on backwards, and caps on sideways, and no one seemed to even notice. Sure it would be wonderful if all musicians – jazz and all others -showed up decked out in the finest threads, but their failure to do so is hardly grist for a music review.
One of the few instances of unmitigated praise I found on the entire page was reserved for Jackson himself in his profile. He referred to himself as “a hypnotic mix of Lou Rawls, Johnny Hartman and Tom Jones”(?). So I felt obliged to go check him out on Youtube (This Can’t Be Love) – and ironically, he was appearing at the very same club that he was reviewing. Frankly, he’s not bad, but I couldn’t verify any comparison between himself and the men he compared himself to at all. We think of the men he cited as having strong, robust voices, while he was being drowned out by the keyboard player. In addition, he was off pitch several times during the tune.
So in true slapimentary fashion, I’d say that while Jackson is a pretty good second-string singer, actor, and journalist – at least, during this time when true journalism is going down the drain – he’s far from ready to move to Mt. Olympus, and he should keep that in mind while reviewing the artistry of his fellow musicians. And by the way, he was immaculately dressed during his performance, and it didn’t help a bit.
Eric L. Wattree
Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)