Letters

09-21-2000

Dave, would you offer up the belief that only "conventional" music is worth listening to? If so, what defines "convention"? The brass players before Louis Armstrong? The sax blowers who preceded Bird? How about all those pianists who never tried what we now call Monkish chords? Who determines what is good/conventional and bad/unconventional?

An even larger question, one that I would have thought you'd already pondered: What is music? At its core, is it anything except sound? Then who among us is so spiritually elevated to differentiate "good" sound from a "soul-searching howl"? From the slanted tone of your article, I imagine that you would have been one of those who walked out on the première of Rites of Springor who booed Sun Ra when he debuted new music at Slugs in the '60s. Even Armstrong, who dismissed the early bop pioneers as using weird chords without melody, proved to be misled by his conventional stance, his "that ain't music" viewpoint.

John Coltrane was on a spiritual journey, even if you don't believe it. You say he played all the time. Yet it wasn't so he could be called the "best" jazzman of his day. It wasn't even because he sought commercial success. Coltrane was simply on a lonely quest to find his voice and his God. Can't you hear that? So maybe Benny Goodman was on a different quest. Surely Dexter Gordon and Ben Webster were, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins are. There is no reason to put down a musician because you don't like what he plays. Hell, even the much-maligned Kenny G has a voice, one that is as off-putting to some as Ornette Coleman's.

Your journalism speaks of your prejudice and close-minded approach to your subject. Those who can't, write. Those who can't write, criticize. Would you have wanted Coltrane to keep playing modal music and selling albums? Even Miles Davis tried different shit in order to grow or at least change as an artist. The real danger in your article is that some readers might take your opinion and not approach these works for themselves.

Does every musician/artist have to please the masses? Do we look at record sales as validation of a person's seriousness? Believe me, Coltrane's reputation wasn't "ruined" by his later work; the pure sound he released through his horns continues to be intriguing, difficult, puzzling, frightening at times and soaringly beautiful at others. Listen to the live version of "Naima" from 1965, or the tune "Offering" from his last session in '67.

I admit I haven't listened to much Ornette Coleman. I don't know why. While I champion his right to pursue his own thing, I've just never taken the time to listen. And that is the key, Mr. McElfresh. Bob Thiele, who recorded Coltrane, said that "most people -- musicians and listeners -- don't have the time to really sit down, listen and let the music just get into them." If you can open your mind and get beyond the surface rejection to ask "Why?" and "What's going on here?", then you might hear what "thousand-note-a-minute soloing" is trying to say.

You want "genteel"? It's FM 95.5.

James Neal
Tempe

Music with energy: In response to the article on jazz musicians John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman: The '60s were a time of many diverse social issues and unrest -- that was reflected in much of the jazz music of Coltrane and Coleman. Jazz, being our own true American art form, was an outlet or outcry of the times. Real jazz has "raw emotion" expressed by an individual's own unique style.

Is jazz merely background music or toe-tapping-simple-ho-hum-along entertainment? No, real jazz needs and deserves to be listened to and learned. This means several careful listenings to recordings. Live with it until you begin to recognize what's coming next! I was fortunate enough to attend one of Coltrane's last live concerts, with Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones, all together in early 1967. I was awestruck with the power and conviction in which they executed one composition that lasted well over an hour. The energy that was emitted from that performance kept me wide awake all the rest of that night.

Jazz today is lacking energy. Musicians need to listen to each other and feed off each other's ideas.

Let's get back to our real jazz art form and not sell out our clef signs for dollar signs. Coltrane and Coleman refused to compromise their true American art form.

E.D. Rose
Scottsdale

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