By Willard Jenkins
What's Your Take?
from Jazz Notes 1997Copyright © 1997, Willard Jenkins
Predictably, what began as a relatively harmless exercise by a group of writers asked to participate by JazzTimes in our estimation of who is over/underrated in jazz, has turned into a huge teeth-gnashing exercise for a number of the readers. "Critics" in many other spheres of journalism (film, television, restaurant criticism, hugely so in politics and sports) have engaged in such ratings games for eons. As usual, this often humorous exercise has been met with serious outrage, especially among those humorless keepers of the jazz gates - those self-same guardians of the flame who spend countless JazzTimes and IAJE Conventions collectively wailing at the wall about the lack of recognition and other ills of jazz - yet never do a damn thing about it beyond pouring forth tons of verbiage. But I digress here - the lack of TRUE activism in this music vs. that exhibited by guardians of other art forms is fodder for another column and another issue.
I should note here that in my case there were at least two musicians who joined the ranks of the overrated by dint of their having issued harsh judgements in print of their fellow practitioners. My take is that anyone who sets him/herself up as a judge of his/her peers has truly achieved an over-inflated sense of self-worth. I do believe in professional courtesies that transcend taking ones peers to such overly negative task as some musicians feel it is their need to do in print.
Interestingly enough, the legion of sanctimonious Sams & Sallies includes several of our own rank and at least one or two reformed JJA-types. I guess we are to read into their letters that Royal Stokes and Scott Yanow have never once issued a disparaging word or a negative criticism - or even a hint of the possible overrated (or underrated for that matter) status of the many artists they've covered. Somehow they've fallen deep into the trap far too many readers fall into, namely, the trap that fails to understand that what is written is the opinion of the writer and not some over-arching value judgement. Take negative criticism for what it is, consider the source, and move on to the next piece. Yanow: "No one in jazz is overrated . . . ." Give me a real break here. And, Scott, we're not considering the general public at large in rendering these judgements, just the jazz public. Ask a Tibetan if they've ever heard of Ken Griffey, Jr. and the response will be, "Who?" You've gotta give us more to go on than that, Scott. Might we be dealing here with some measure of angst over the lack of an invitation to the party?
Mike Hennessey and Chip Stern sound off from the writer-turned-record producer camp. Yeah Mike, I'd love to hear musicians sound off on jazz writers - we all know what a hoot that'd be. Chip Stern sounds off on Bill Milkowski (whose contribution came in for the most heated responses from JT letter writers) as if he'd never issued a negative judgement on any artists in his time chronicling the jazz wars. Somehow each of these writers-turned-irate-letter-contributors comes off as a bit too outraged for my taste, as though they've totally dismissed their own history of covering this music, or the history of musicians issuing counter-productive negativisms in print of their peers (when Wynton went off on Miles, I took it as classic Karma, given Miles' history of doing the same).
And what of the other side of the coin, namely, the "Underrated" side, the side which received equal billing to the "Overrated" side. Any opinions there? What's your take?