Jazz Police Brutality

On Do the Math, the Bad Plus’ astute and amusing blog covering topics as disparate as Ornette Coleman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, pianist Ethan Iverson recently posted a link to a Sept. ’06 interview with Police drummer Stewart Copeland—a rock drummer with undeniably jazz-influenced chops. during the interview, published online at hippie-haven JamBase.com, Copeland engages in some truly terrifying jazz bashing, more disrespectful and positively evil than any well-timed satire Stephen Colbert or Craig Ferguson could imagine.

“[If] you don’t have any soul and you don’t have any talent, jazz is what you should do,” says Copeland. “…any fool can do it; all you gotta do is practice.”

He then proceeds to call Miles Davis a “fucking junky” [sic] who “sounded like shit” and mock John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but not without conceding his affinity for “Jack DeJohneete” [sic] and “Some of [Miles’] early records where he had Tony Williams.” As any bored undergrad subjected to Ken Burns’ doc knows, Miles was eras into his career before he recruited Williams, but we get the point.

Admittedly, Copeland commits this blood-boiling heresy in part to get a rise out of people like you and to entice the publication of columns like this one by people like me. “It’s not about the music, it’s about the guys,” Copeland says of his loathing for the swing set. “Jazz musicians as a rule are stuck up snobs.” The drummer offers that there “are many exceptions to that rule,” but it’s not enough. He’s jazzbo-hater numero uno.

Elitism and brashness parallel talent in all art forms, jazz included. America’s classical music has its share of woodshedding windbags and baseless egotists, and it’s these peacocks who condescend other genres and frighten away would-be converts. But as this issue attests, jazz also brims with the salt of the earth.

In his feature on avant-garde maestro Anthony Braxton, David R. Adler uncovers a passionate visionary who’s spent his career imploding barriers between black and white and high and low culture, all in hopes of creating “a new civility.” In Final Chorus, Nat Hentoff writes how festival honcho George Wein, in addition to being a generous and principled employer, belongs to a tradition of selfless sidemen. In the Gig, Nate Chinen outlines how artists prevail in an age when a major-label record deal is an afterthought for jazz musicians. Finally, Geoffrey Himes’ cover story on Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau presents a scenario that only rarely comes to fruition in the rock world: Definitive artists relinquish their egos and collaborate as democratically as possible, with little more than great art as their incentive. The same goes for Marc Hopkins’ survey of current jazz collectives: Musicians both aspiring and established bond together in the spirit of creativity and community outreach.

It took Copeland’s Police over 20 years to set aside their machismo just to tour the hits, and even then, stadiums full of cash appear to be their inspiration. Hopefully guitarist Andy Summers—a highly likable chap with a profound appreciation for jazz—will take the money and run … far, far away.

Originally published in May 2007

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