Sunday, August 19, 2012


I'm posting this here, rather than on Burning Ambulance, because I haven't posted here since May, and because it's more of a rant than a considered essay, or a review of a specific album.

Indeed, it's the opposite of an album review—it's an explanation of exactly why I will not be listening to an album I just received in the mail.

Yesterday, I got a copy of Live at the Blue Note, a disc featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Joey Baron. All talented players, all featured on albums I've enjoyed in the past. So I flipped it over to look at the track listing. Here's what I found: "What Is This Thing Called Love." "Body & Soul." "Stella by Starlight." "I'll Remember April." "I Remember You." "I Can't Get Started."

Are you fucking kidding me? Do you know how many versions of each of these songs exist already? Does any human being alive need to hear one more version of "What Is This Thing Called Love"? Or "Stella by Starlight"? Or "I'll Remember April"? Who can fucking forget April, at this point?

The very first sentence of the brief liner notes told me everything I needed to know. It reads, "When the leaderless group of Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron came together for a week-long engagement at the Blue Note, they brought little more than their instruments with them—no set lists, no prior discussions about the music they wanted to play." The third paragraph elaborates on this idea, saying, "Though these standards serve as jazz's lingua franca, having been performed and recorded countless times, they exist as reborn songs by dint of those interpreting them. Konitz, in particular, has been partial to this repertoire for years. Yet, at the Blue Note, he played this material with these guys for the first time. Presto, new music!"

Speaking as a consumer and a jazz fan, I gotta say, with all due respect...fuck you guys. You wanna know why jazz albums don't sell for shit? Because labels release recordings of lazy, entitled old-timers coasting on name recognition, sleepwalking through tunes everyone who's into jazz has already heard 500 times before. This is Konitz's regular MO, as the quote above pointed out. Last year, he put out an album on ECM, Live at Birdland, recorded in 2009, on which he was backed by pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. That album featured versions of "Lover Man," "Lullaby of Birdland," "Solar," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "You Stepped Out of a Dream," and "Oleo," and it was duller than listening to paint dry. Now, granted, even back in the '50s, Konitz's albums tended to feature only one or two of his own compositions, buried in a pile of standards and interpretations of other jazz players' tunes, but the fact that he doesn't even play his own older pieces, choosing instead the most uninspired possible set list, is almost criminal.

This is not a diatribe directed solely at Lee Konitz, by the way—I want to make sure that's crystal clear. This is a problem afflicting the music across the board, and I think it may be time to lay down the law: Jazz musicians need to stop recording standards. (I'd like to see musicians play only songs they or their bandmates wrote, but I've still got to leave room for stuff like bassist William Parker's new Duke Ellington project, which is awesome.) Play the old standards live if you want, if you've got so little respect for your audience that you think they still want to hear "Body & Soul" in 2012 (if you do still want to hear "Body & Soul" in 2012, seek professional help). But if you're headed into a recording studio, or even putting out a live album, you better have some brand-new music prepared, or you're not getting my money.