Wynton’s Blog

Harmony through Conflict

I applaud the fire and strong sentiments of this response. The gene pool of ideas is enriched when a diversity of perspectives is encouraged. I try to address as many comments as I can by emailing youdirectly and will continue to do this but, this one time, I wish to publish a long detailed response to demonstrate how I tend to look at differences of opinion. My hope is to communicate, not to attack ordenigrate. I won't go back and forth just because I don't have the time and my phone typing is very under developed.

I am always surprised when someone thinks I don't 'like' Kenny G or Cecil Taylor or any musician with a different viewpoint or style of playing. Over these years, I have had good times with musicians of all genres including rap. Just the fact of being musicians gives us a common ground and a shared experience. Music aside, entire personal friendships of many years can be fueled by opposing viewpoints and much can be learned through considerate disagreement. That said, I don't plan on spending a lot of time typing up critiques of other musicians but I will comment on things that affect our culture through music. In this forum I will mainly speak on what I enjoy and what may inspire you.

Criticism, though fun and funny to hand out and receive, has a tendency to dominate discussions and lend an air of authority where there is none. (Like the proverbial dinner guest that found the wine 'not full-bodied' enough for their taste (because they wanted a beer) and started a 40 minute argument about wines). A friend of mine would respond to the comment "A lot of people don't like_____" by answering, "Well there are a lot of people."

To Lisa Conlon: Wow! So much passion.
(read Lisa's comments on Crossover to What? (Part II) )
Opinions can widely differ on non-life-threatening subjects without vitriol……or not.

1) I think the difference in the relationship between that jazz which is influenced by the church and much of Afro-American contemporary music including contemporary gospel is the difference between 'from the soil of' and 'on the back of'. 'On the back of' implies that primary musical objectives are abandoned. (An example is the over-ornamented style of much contemporary singing). 'From the soil of' means primary musical objectives are enriched. (For example, Herlin Riley's use of the tambourine). The blues is the secular counterpart to church music. Both have 'root' functions and even though I believe the spirituals had an influence on the blues, I think bawdy songs of the period preceding the minstrel song also inform the blues.

2) Advances in the technology of instruments and tuning respectively most certainly influenced the writings of Bach, Haydn and many other great artist, but the technology (counterpoint, harmonies, form,orchestration, etc.) of and expression (depth of melodies, historical references, level of inspiration, etc.) in their creations are the artistic achievements for which they are remembered and studied. Technology is another branch of creativity in which inventors are rightfully credited for their innovations. My point does not decry the use of technology but questions the misconception that using a new technology is akin to creating an innovative art. You go on to observe that technology enabled my classical recordings to be edited giving the illusion that I play perfectly. Unfortunately, I have also played thousands of concerts in front of all types of audiences, and these performances clearly attest to the imperfection of my playing (unlike the perfect playing you are accustomed to hearing). So far, as your perception of my music as being watered down, I suspect no amount of technology will help me improve that perception.

3) I am in a car on a 20 hour drive from Rotterdam to Perugia using a phone to text Luigi in Italy who makes these posts on my behalf. I am often very tired and doing many things at once (it's now 6 in the morning and we left at 2). Thankfully, these long rides afford me the opportunity to type informal messages. Please forgive the occasional misspelling but I will try to be even more careful even without spell check.

4) Opera at its best is community music at its best. I don't imply there should be NO theatrical element to performances but that musical content should, in a music concert, be at least as prominent if not more than things that explode. That is not to say things shouldn't explode. Let them explode and let the music have content also. Nowadays, many live performances are taped and the only actual live performance is dance (I know that riles you if classical recordings being edited are disturbing). Once again, no real problem for me seeing a dance concert with taped music but somewhat disingenuous at a music concert. I noticed in the 80's that when my views were counter to the status quo opinion, a writer would develop his own more extreme version of what I'd said and then go on to critique that distortion. Thosealtered statements used words like 'everyone,' 'all,' 'never' and 'absolutely' to portray a recalcitrant extremist who brooked no counter statement. My father repeatedly told us when we were growing up, "ALL of everybody never does anything". When using general terms like 'pop music' or 'men' or 'Afro-Americans', I mean, as most of us do when using these terms, generally or most or even many or some.

5) I wear suits out of respect to the music and the audience. To me, and many others all over our country and the western world, it is the men's wear of record. A suit is elegant and stylish if well tailored and worn decisively. Coming from Kenner, Louisiana, I always saw the poorest people feel better on Sunday when they put their finest on (and everyone had a finest of some sort). A freshly pressed, diamond-cut suit with spit-shined shoes and the proper brim forever signifies a gravitas and a seriousness that I love. And I'm far from alone in that sentiment. Whether I wear a suit or not does not affect whetheror not other musicians can pay their rent. However, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the resources we have provided for the last twenty years has helped thousands of musicians, in some way, pay rent.
And we will continue to get better at doing so.

6) Your assessment of my last recorded effort——- my poetic skill and lack thereof is a matter of taste. You may love poetry and be an ardent reader or not. I am not a professional poet but I have read and written for many years. I released a book of poems for children that was pretty well received and 'He and She' was a different type of cd (music that comes from a poem and is recorded with it) than I usually make. It's ok for you not to like it and its ok not to like something period. I have 5 or 6 other cd's waiting to come out and some won't like some things on them either. I won't like some of it. A friend of mine was once telling me how stupid I was for writing a three hour piece of music. He said no one wants to hear all of that. I said I didn't know if I did either but asked what long music did he listen to….. He laughed.
My 19 year old, Simeon, once made a book of rap lyrics and contemporary music that his generation loved, I would read from it whenever the debate around 'young people's music' became so strident that some evidence had to be introduced.
Reflecting on those lyrics, I have to respectfully disagree with your qualitative assessment of the average contemporary popular song in relation to 'he and she'……..

7) Comments about my propped up career and me being a fake and no emotional playing and can't write melodies and all of that. That tired old criticism has been as successful as my rantings against popular music and rap and no music education and so on…

8) Finally, I'm not looking to attract wider audiences. I'm looking to communicate with you. If you can take something from it, I'm happy. If not, there are many other ways to look at things. If jazz is aboutnothing else it, like civilization itself, is about choice. I won't suppress my opinions and am not upset that yours are different from or critical of mine. And I don't wish to suppress yours. This forum allows me to speak without distortion directly to you. And you to speak to me. In past interviews, writers and editors would often purposely misrepresent my ideas to punish me for expressing philosophies counter to the accepted mythology and influence people away from those views by making them seem irrational or self-serving; or to create 'personal rancor' where there was none (remember the whole 'uptown vs. downtown' battle in NYC that was based on absolutely nothing). 'Harmony through conflict' is sometimes the nature of democratic dialogue. We can maintain a civil tone with each other and be just as passionate and steadfast in our beliefs.


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