Friday, July 09, 2010


There's been a lot of discussion in jazz circles this week (I've noticed it filling up my Twitter feed, a welcome distraction from Lebron James- and Prince-related blather) about the Laurie Anderson/Lou Reed/John Zorn trio performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival this past week. Apparently, there was some consternation on the part of the audience, with many audience members even demanding (and receiving) refunds.

There are lots of stories like this—guitarist Sonny Sharrock was famously disrupted by a German audience member who ran down front and started pounding on the stage mid-set, yelling over and over, "This is not jazz! This is not jazz!" And not long ago, a Spanish man who lived near the site of a jazz festival called the police to complain that the band onstage was not playing jazz (they were some sort of instrumental funk-fusion act, I believe), and his complaints were taken seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Wynton Marsalis, assiduous guard of the borders between That Which Swings and That Which Shall Not Pollute Our Precious Ear Canals, took the side of the complainer over that of his fellow musicians.

What makes this case interesting is the demand for (and receipt of) money back. As Peter Hum wrote on,

The refunds just send the wrong message and set a bad precedent, I think. A music performance is not a razor blade, a software module, or any other consumer good that can be guaranteed. You wouldn't demand a refund for your hockey game ticket if your team lost, would you? It's not as if Reed, Zorn and Anderson were not living up to their part of the bargain -- they showed up and did their thing, making music in good faith. (That's a big improvement on the Paul Bley/Chet Baker show of many years ago in which Chet Baker did not make it on stage. Then, was there a 50-per-cent refund provided?)

I'm not saying that folks should have dug the Reed/Anderson/Zorn show. But that's not the point. When it comes to concerts, you pays your money, you takes your chances—that's my point. Polite Canadian that I am, the best excuse I can find for the refunds is they were a gracious reaction to Zorn's f-bomb. But if rudeness by performers merits refunds, then Keith Jarrett's promoters had better have extra money in the bank.

I'm with Hum on this one. You are not guaranteed a satisfying aesthetic experience when you buy a concert ticket. (That's half the reason I don't go out very often—I know most bands suck live, so they won't get my time/money until they've got a proven track record.) What's funniest to me about this whole thing, though, is that I can't imagine the music excerpted in the clip below inspiring such a vitriolic, "This is not jazz/I demand satisfaction!" response. I mean, listen for yourself:

That's John Zorn (and Lou Reed, for that matter) operating at about 30 percent. Imagine if the festival organizers had booked Borbetomagus:


Guy Peters said...

the spanish story actually involved a jazz fan, who wanted a refund because larry ochs & drumming core were not playing "jazz"

Ochs' reaction:
"What in the world is going on in this time-period, when everyone seems to be drawing lines in the sand beyond which they won’t tolerate anything “more” (or “less”)? How can we ever get everyone to be open to the idea of living together in a tolerant world with various ways of viewing that world and being in that world when, within the confines of even the arts world, people like Mr. Marsalis feel the need to publicly censor “the other”? There is no doubt that the Drum Core (and Rova) plays art-music that expressly draws ideas, sounds and inspiration from jazz; no one would argue with that. So of course we should be presented at jazz festivals looking for something adventurous to present. My opinion: no one owns the right to decide what qualifies as jazz or not-jazz. (In fact, this issue is dated and irrelevant except at a capital-J Jazz Institution. But then that institution has every right to limit who it allows to enter its own realm anyway, so there’s no reason for anyone to feel threatened, correct?) And it seems to me that any promoter who loves improvised music including jazz, should have the right and the ability to hire any band that they wish to, if they believe that their audience would be surprised and stimulated by, and (even) enjoy, the music."

The entire text here:

Phil Freeman said...

Yeah, the exact details escaped me; the thing that stuck out the most was Wynton Marsalis coming out and taking the pissy fan's side, not Ochs'. That seemed churlish even by his standards.