"Jazz has become a funeral parlor"

Yippee.(Not.) Here’s fresh controversy in the form of a quote from pianist Matthew Shipp, from the free jazz scene,who has worked with David S Ware and Roscoe Mitchell, from a profile in Signal to Noise Magazine.

The jazz industry has become a huge funeral parlor. Within jazz, the historical weight is so oppressive. If you look at a jazz magazine, eight or nine months of the year they’ll have the same covers you could have seen in 1972. Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock. At least if Spin magazine has an article about the Eagles, they’ll hide it in the back. And if the Eagles go on tour the rock industry treats it as a nostalgia act, but in the jazz industry, if Keith Jarrett or Herbie Hancock go on tour they treat it like it’s real music and it’s important. We’ve heard enough of them—they’re millionaires, they should just go somewhere and stop playing.

I have to wonder if Shipp has been quoted fairly. Be that as it may, here’s my tuppence:

If Chick Corea and Dave Holland (in common with most older jazz musicians I meet) aren’t still definitely:

(a) worth hearing
(b) developing and moving forwards
(c) influencing and being influenced by people much younger than them….

Then please, will someone enlighten me.

The source of this quote isKeith Goetzman’s UTNE blog.

Matthew Shipp has a three day residency at Cafe Oto on February 12, 13 and 14.
Details are on the Cafe Oto website

Categories: miscellaneous

21 replies »

  1. I totally agree that players like Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Chick Corea are still playing lots of interesting music. But I do feel that Matthew Shipp has a point about the coverage of jazz in the US. Downbeat does focus much more on the established artists than the up-and-coming compared with equivalent coverage of the European scene in magazines such as Jazzwise. And US artists, such as Tim Berne and Bobby Previte, who are highly rated over here, just don't get a mention in the annual polls.

  2. Mr. Shipp's comments are misguided. 1. what is his definition of “real music”? 2. Why is he the arbiter of what is “real” and what is not? 3. The musicians he mentions are only on the covers of jazz publications because large numbers of listeners/readers still find their music compelling. 4. Large numbers of people find their music compelling because they continue to create music in the best traditions of the artform we call jazz. 5. The worth of an artist should be judged on talent alone, and they should not be criticized because they happen to be old or happen to be “millionaires”. 6. Shipp seems to be the type of jazz fan who resents an artist who becomes popular, believing that jazz should only be performed by young revolutionaries starving in a garret perhaps with a needle in their arm. 7. The musicians Shipp criticizes are still popular because they are innovators who each influenced and contributed to the development of jazz, in contrast to many contemporary artists. As Pat Metheny said in my recent book “The Pat Metheny Interviews”, “The thing we see a lot of now is younger players who are very capable, even exceptional musicians. But they get to a high point of fluency without having much of a story of their own to tell…being original has become less of a goal…but that's a break from the jazz tradition.”

  3. I agree with Matthew to a large extent.Whilst im huge fan of the already mentioned artists, its time to show some support for the new talents and put THEM on the front pages of these mags. The writers of said mags should get out of their comfort zones, take risks, support new music, artists and artistry instead of resting on their laurels. The jazz industry has an image problem and its shooting itself in its foot by continually residing in the past and not supporting new and exciting talent to the extent that it should.

  4. Surely this reflects a lot about the jazz magazines in 1972 if they were featuring this line-up, each artist 37 years of experience poorer than they are today.

    I think Mr Shipp has a misguided idea that all musical genres and styles operate in the manner of rock. The Eagles aren't creating new music these days – and when they tour it is primarily an act of nostalgia and fundraising. Hearing Herbie Hancock play simply cannot be compared to the baby boomer memory lane exercise of a contemporary Eagles concert.


  5. Shipp is obviously bitter and shouldn't dismiss Holland, Herbie et al, but I think the point about the jazz press not really recognizing the younger generation is a fair one. I still come across descriptions in the major jazz magazines of players such as Paul Clarvis and Gerard Presencer as “young and up and coming”. Considering both are among the most in demand (and well respected) players you'll find in this country, I wonder when they will finally be accepted as having “come up”! Perhaps when they start drawing a pension?

  6. I do think Tony has a point, these artists clog up the top of the system.

    Maybe it's the questions that are wrong….
    Are they talented – of course. But are they really worth the £30 concert hall prices? not so sure

    Are they developing? yes – but within their own slightly retro space. Are they innovating? – not much in my opinion.

    Are they influencing the younger generation. yes. But is that entirely a good thing? Don't we want jazz artists to innovate, to incorporate their own experiences of today into the music rather than the experiences of an older generation? Well – obviously the US media don't.

  7. £30? For Keith Jarrett? You'll be lucky. I paid £60 last time for the privilege of being moaned at by him.

    Dunno about his “real music” point (not sure he picked the best targets there), but otherwise have to agree that The Wire apart (and they put Matthew Shipp on the cover, didn't they), there isn't a great deal of risk-taking in the printed media. But that doesn't just apply to jazz, does it? Look at the UK rock mags too (oh look, another Dylan cover) or even the broadsheets (oh look, another big Paul McCartney live review. And paltry jazz coverage).

    Still, that is probably why we started writing/reading/commenting on blogs like this isn't it? Surely that is where the most relevant jazz coverage is these days, not in the magazines Shipp mentions. For my part, I'm looking forward to writing about Shipp's forthcoming performance(s) at Cafe Oto…

  8. Whatever Shipp's intent with these comments, to me he comes of sounding bitter, mean-spirited and downright crotchety! I don't think he helps his cause or the cause of jazz by speaking in these terms.

    First of all, he's right that there is a “huge historical weight” on jazz. Good. The way artforms move forward is by younger artists reacting to the old ways. And the only way to react to the old ways is to know them.

    Second, as others have already mentioned, why does Shipp think he's the arbiter of what's “real” and “important”? He actually comes across sounding like an old man complaining about the music his kids listen to!

    Third, and most importantly, any artist who is looking to the big magazines to lead the way as far as hipness is concerned is not only fooling himself but also living in a world that does not exist anymore. The magazines are struggling to survive and as such are more reflections of popular taste than arbitors of what's hip. And that's cool. The internet gives us plenty of places to go (includin this site) to find what's hip. Downbeat and Jazz Times, as much as I still read and enjoy them, are not where I go to be turned on to the younger cats. That's not the role they fill.

    For all of Shipp's protestations about being hip, he seems to have a very un-hip view of how the world works these days. As soon as he realizes that he doesn't have to put down the elders of the music to champion his the better off he'll be. And as soon as he realizes that we live in a world where he has to go out and find his audience, rather than a magazine handing him an audience, the better off he'll be.


  9. People are literally dying to get on the radio these days..
    somebody should do a study of living vs dead on jazz radio playlists…

    Institutional jazz (radio, press) has become the Music of the Dead.

    There are a couple of reasons for this –
    1. Old media outlets are terrified of losing their audiences, so want to give the survivors the familiar usual names
    2. The record business has stopped developing and promoting new “names.”

    Jazz itself is alive and thriving, however, in the hands of new generations who cut their teeth on youtube videos featuring everybody under the sun..

    but these youngsters have a new burden, that of creating new audiences using new media and competing with a torrent of new material as the cost of production plummets.

    The “business” has degenerated into tributes – they're tributing people who aren't even dead yet.. No New Names!, please. The “name” cake is baked – the door is closed.

    I have a great idea! A John Coltrane-Frank Sinatra tribute band with accordion, zither and ukelele! Awesome! I bet it could tour in a heartbeat..

  10. At some point jazz lost it's nurturing history built on traditional methods,
    and rejected its past. Maybe getting jobs teaching in every university in the country might have increased players well versed in music but none of this increased the fact that Jazz holds 1% of the record sales and venues have mostly been reduced to small eateries that do not pay. With that said what is the incentive for the media to nurture and feature young talent when the state of the art has been reduced to a Boutique art form. The players that can make a metal head stop eating his hamburger and listen are the players that will survive, and that doesn't mean he will be playing it in 9/64 time.

  11. There is a tendency, particurly in the UK, to plug and favour jazz that leans more toward the european influence and away the the folk/african orgins and a lot of it has has loss it's essense with a lot of these younger players. Many promoters and magazines propagate this. Playing a Beatles song in 7/4 or covering a Coldplay song with a hip hop backbeat is hardly original. As Richard pointed out. for some of these young players being orginal has become less of a goal and I think being 'trendy' to to make headlines has become more of an occupation with younger musicians. If you look at the program for Cheltenham Jazz Festival for last few years, that speaks for itself. Promnoters dictating and professing to be hip and dicoverors of 'new' talent…

  12. Would love to know who the last commenter is; please tell me which young UK jazz players are covering Coldplay with hiphop grooves and getting lots of coverage in the jazz press?

    We are a European country, and so emphasis on European jazz (which is at the forefront of the music at the moment) is both appropriate and a good thing.

    Most young players I know are very well versed in the history of the music, but do not feel the need to hold creativity back because of it.

    Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of the casual “young players are boring, all sound the same, have no knowledge of musical history and have nothing to say” diatribe. It's just not true.


  13. Only just read the comments by Matthew Shipp and have not heard his music ( free jazz ? )
    I started listening to Jazz over 50 years ago at 3 local jazz clubs and my 'vinyl' at the time ranged from Eddie Condon to Clifford Brown,Alex Welsh to Stan Getz. I enjoyed 'trad'
    and'modern' jazz as it was then called. I am now pretty ancient but still listen and enjoy this type of music.Indeed, a lot of this jazz is being re-issued on CD or as MP3 downloads and I am still buying . I recently went to a local jazz concert and the average age of the audience was around 60 years ! ! !
    I personally do not know of any young people who listen to Jazz of any sort. Maybe this is Mr Shipp's problem. The young people go to clubs and concerts to listen to rocknpop.
    I do not like 'free' jazz but I will try and catch Mr Shipp and then form an opinion. Problem is, older listeners like the music of their youth and younger listeners do not seem to care. He has a problem !

  14. Matthew Shipp's bitterness is understandable, but we are where we are, and as previous comments have suggested it's reductionist to suggest that the prominence of musicians who've been around for a long time is the product of the press. My recollection of getting into jazz in the 70s was that I had to fight my way through stuff about Gillespie, Parker etc. Some jazz commentators then thought Miles had stepped over the border into enemy territory in the late 60s.

    I think Richard Niles stands things on their head though, but I see from his website that he boasts puffs from Dame Gillian Reynolds and the following “FRANK SINATRA HAD NELSON RIDDLE. I HAVE RICHARD NILES …….love, marti pellow”. Nuff said.

  15. FREE MUSIC IS ALSO A FUNERAL! iTS JUST THE SAME PIECE OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN PLAYED BY COFFEED UP 'MUSICIANS' WHO DONT READ WELL- LIKE ME.I think we also need to recognise that hip hop happened to jazz and it became tedious.Lets also get down to some serious music theory and explore tensions and dissonance, polyrhythms and texture with some subtlety, rather than bashing away like three year olds. It embarrassing.


  16. errrr….it seems that Mr Shipp is just fed up. Fair play. It is b****cks when you read about the same old thing – 50th anniversary of this and that blah blah blah (it's worth saying that this is in no way a reflection on the mentioned artists – they're just doing what they do).

    However, this is only relevant for me – hopefully there might be a 15 yr old reading it somewhere, learning something (albeit probably from weighted opinion…). Then he/she can become as embittered as me (and by the sound of it, Mr Shipp) and just be a bitter old improviser. It's brill.

    Why's bashing away like a 3 year old embarrassing? Better to bash away and not be embarrassed – play with balls – rather than worry you're doing the right thing. Music is about the moment; Study is about a bigger time frame. Just work hard and let it happen the way it best suits you. I think….

  17. Certainly musicians like Jarrett and Hancock deserve respect and are still great to hear but I think Mr. Shipp does have something of a point. I recently paid £65 (UK) to see Pat Metheney and about 3000 solenoids playing some pleasant but hardly ground-breaking stuff. Novel yes but the kit didn't always work and he ultimately fell back on solo acoustic versions of stuff form his very early days that seemed a lot like space-filling. The rugby-shirted brigade whoop if Metheny just stands there though so I guess nobody really minded too much, and even I couldn't really say that I didn't enjoy it. However, there are times when the jazz industry does seem a tad greeedy, milking the fans for as much as possible in the manner of rock acts like the Rolling Stones. Playing sell-out mega-venues surely is not quite what jazz is about though …

  18. We have a couple of wonderful live jazz venues in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    To me, “real” does suggest “live.” I enjoy a huge Django Reinhardt collection..but his work is less “real” today than that of Bill Frisell, who I've heard here, live, twice in the last week.

  19. How many copies of a magazine is a picture of Matthew 'they should all stop playing' Shipp going to sell? The Herbie Hancock Joni Mitchell River CD is an innovative as any free music (and I've played with art school bluffers like Brotzman and also the talented ones with straight ahead chops like Maggie Nichols.) As for the imbecile who dismissed Dr Richard Niles and his massive technique, knowledge and popularity because he's got a Marti Pellow quote on his site, it's called 'making a living'. Bet you don't, not from music anyway.

  20. 'imbecile' a ridiculous word to use in that context'. Sorry. Not only am I a hothead, and I'm also a fathead. (h'mm Fathead Newman, great funky tenor player especially with Cornell Dupree)

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