Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gig Reminder and Unfinished Business

Mission Theater in Portland
First: If you live in Portland or nearby, or have your own private jet, then come to my show on Tuesday, December 13th at the Mission Theater . This will be my debut as a bandleader in Portland. Joining me will be a rhythm section of Eric Gruber on bass and Todd Strait on drums. Sitting in will be the great Dan Balmer on guitar and pianist Kerry Politzer. (Politzer will play piano while I run around the stage with my melodica and trumpet.) The show starts at 8pm. We will be mixing it up with my tunes and some tunes by piano legend and former PSU professor Andrew Hill. It should be a great experience. I will be jet lagged, but I'm looking forward to being home with my family and playing for a Portland audience.

If you have been following the drama surrounding my previous two posts, you might be aware that the firestorm surrounding Nicholas Payton's latest CD "Bitches" seems to still be burning. So many people have dropped by to leave comments(there were 137 comments on the first post entitled "Much Ado About Nicholas Payton"). And the conversation continues. Also, some people decided to comment on my Facebook page. There was a lengthy comment and lengthy thread regarding my defense of Payton's CD. A reader (someone whom I thought was a friend ! And not just a facebook friend! Some one I actually met in real life! I have actually gone out of my way to give advice and support to this person. Hopefully, when this thing blows over, we can get beyond this bone of contention) remarked:

I want to go on record as saying that folks particularly George Colligan, defending Nicolas Payton's right to put a beautiful black woman on the cover of his CD and call her a bitch is absolutely disgusting and shows how white people continue enable the oppression of black women in the jazz industry and in general. 

Many comments followed, one which stated :

....guys like George are simply playing 'follow the leader'; they don't want to offend their 'leader', so they become mere 'yes' men. 

Now, since this is still my blog, I would like to go on the record as saying that my initial post had little to do with the cover and the title of the CD. I choose to discuss the music, as well as some controversial yet astute comments made by Nicholas regarding the word "jazz", and then defend the CD from words by a writer whom I thought was unfair.(Said writer has not to mention him by name and I will honor that request.) As far as the name and the cover goes, the first thing is "Don't judge a CD by the cover!" Secondly, After listening to the CD, I do not believe this CD has an ounce of obscenity. I don't believe that Payton is a misogynist. The lyrical content of the album is about a relationship. read what Payton himself said in an interview with Asha Brodie regarding the CD:

I’m just being true to me. I’m not trying to be original per se, just writing what I feel. I mean, all of these tunes are derived from real-life experiences. The songs here tell a story and they all represent a different aspect and manner of love. I put words and music to things that I really felt at one particular time so in that regard it was pretty easy to be original or different. Writing it was therapeutic, I put my energy and emotion into it.

Now, I also stated that I personally wouldn't call my CD "Bitches", but I'm not offended by the word on it's own, and I believe that this falls under the category of free speech. And because I believe that Payton is not motivated by purely capitalistic motives, I would defend it based on the idea that he should have the right to call the CD what he wants, as long as isn't being directly slanderous or libelous towards a specific person or group of people. OK, if the CD was called, "I Hate Women", and all the lyrics on the CD were elaborating that idea,  then Payton would surely be on his own with that one!

Women are objectified and suffer various forms of disrespect, abuse, and oppression every day in America, and more so around the world. Whether is comes in the subtle form of stealth over-sexualization of advertising, or discrimination in the workplace, or being tortured, raped, mutilated and murdered because they disobeyed their husband, or being kidnapped and sold into slavery, women are being wronged. I don't believe this CD has anything to do with that! Furthermore,  the idea that I'm enabling the oppression of black woman, or any women,  in jazz and or in general, is absurd.

Regarding the idea that I am a "yes man" following a leader is also misguided. I only wrote these recent posts because I liked the CD and I liked what Payton said on his blog, and I felt that the critic who skewered the CD and Payton did so in a way which should be taken as a insult to all musicians. I have my own opinions, and while I happen to agree with much of what Payton says, I'm sure we won't agree on everything. I also respect him tremendously for his musical ability and his thoughtfulness in this ongoing discussion. But I have no agenda otherwise. Although I've worked with Payton in the past, I don't think Payton hires any musicians based on their blogging ability!

As I said the battle of words rages on; I intend to try to steer my blogship into different waters. Just a few last words. Payton has some new posts which continue the "discussion", shall we say. You can read them and decide for yourself. But one thing he posted was an "At Last!" moment, in terms of what my philosophy is:

What Pianist George Colligan (I wish he would call it BAMtruth lol) and myself are doing on our blogs is the wave of the future. We musicians are taking back control of the music. Fuck the New York Times. With all due respect, until I hear Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff sit in at Smalls and rip everybody in the club to pieces, nothing they say matters.


I'll leave you with some  further thoughts from Seth Ambramson, curator of the Jazz Standard in New York.

It's great to see a lot of passionate dialogue back and forth.  What I find discouraging however is the vitriol that accompanies some of it.  Likely we all can agree that "jazz" is an art form.  It is a living and breathing art form that in order to maintain relevance and attract audiences generation after generation needs to respect its history while reflecting what is currently going on in our society.  Therefore today we have the lineage of all that came before from James P. Johnson and Fats Waller to Louis Armstrong to Bird, Monk, Trane, Miles, Ornette, on up to today’s artists inclusive of Terence Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kurt Rosenwinkel, The Bad Plus, Nicholas Payton, Marcus Strickland, George Colligan, and the list goes on and on.

Rather than focusing a discussion on the merits of any one artist can we agree that, as an art form, jazz as Blakey used to say “washes away the dust of everyday life”.

Well I’d say we have an awful lot of dust to wash away these days.  A lot of dust results in a lot of dirt.  Here we have it in the form of mud slinging etc.

However, let’s step away form this undignified mudslinging and see that the anger and hostility present out there is very real and troubling in our society at large as we head into 2012.  How sad then, as we enter this age, many of us old enough to consider “the future” when growing up in the 70’s,80’s and even 90’s, that we have such divide across so many segments of our society.  This current back and forth discussion, be it what has emanated from Nicholas Payton’s blog or elsewhere here, is merely reflective of this and mirrors it.

I’d like to throw out now a lofty ideal to all of us in that as Burt Bacharach eloquently wrote about is that What The World Needs Now is Love.  How corny that sounds  Did I really just write that?  But has it ever been more true than today?

Why are we not discussing in these “jazz” blogs that as of the past week the

homicide rate in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, has reached an alarming 175
and counting in 2011?  Even more tragic within this is that it’s brother killing brother.
What is there to celebrate as a society in this?  How do we, as members of this society,not only address these issues but change them?

Most promising of late has been the Occupy movement.  Finally, people are getting fed up enough to voice their collective wrath in a peaceful, non-violent way. And although politicians, on either side may hope this blows over, it is a very real movement that truly expresses the discontentment of the 99% of the population.

This makes our politicians uncomfortable.  Suddenly, with the internet, it’s not so simple

to just clear out the parks and “let ‘em eat cake”  This is truly a winter of discontent.

What’s beautiful about this music and this art form we can call “jazz”, “BAM” or whatever is most apt, is that is has the power to heal, it has the power to bridge divides be it racial, ethnic, cultural, geographic or other.  Weren’t these the very ideals sought long ago by Dizzy Gillespie forming his United Nations Band?

If Dizzy were alive today what would he have to say about the back and forth rancor in these blogs for example?

Why is jazz not as relevant today as hip-hop and rap?  Hip-hop and rap

address these issues in society do they not?  Thus, the younger generations relate to it. It speaks to them and addresses some real issues. I'm speaking in general terms and I don't claim any expertise in the multitudes of the genre. Like it or not it has real cultural relevance.  Jazz at one point was the Hip Hop of its day when it emerged as Be Bop for example. It had to Be before it could Bop!

Where’s Dizzy when we need him? We need the leaders of this art form commonly called jazz to help our culture heal and overcome it’s paralysis.  We need them to put their energies towards positive change.

This takes a hell of a lot more discipline and commitment than sounding off about who can play the most happening solo over a given set of changes quickly flying through various time signatures. The general listening audience couldn't care less about that.

Addressing sincere and current cultural and societal issues in the music gives this music the power and the relevance it has earned and deserves today, tomorrow and beyond!  BAM :-)


  1. thank you george (and thank you seth) for the clarity and dignity.

    i was born with ehlers-danlos-syndrome (EDS) a rare connective tissue disorder that, among other things, messes with my joints. there are a lot of people affected by this, but it's still a "rare" disease and thus largely ignored by the medical mainstream.

    so what happened with the community of people impacted by this condition? they began fighting over the direction that their advocacy and research should be taking, which eventually became a matter of personal rancor among some of the most capable and energetic people involved. there used to be 1 non-profit organization fighting an already-uphill battle to get what they need from the scarce resources and attention available. now there are 3 of them, competing internally for their even-smaller piece it, all the while confusing people on the outside.

    sound familiar? let's not let our amped-up emotions push us in that direction.

    bam! (in lowercase letters - with my fragile joints I don't want to injure myself).

  2. The issue with the term "bitches" is that Payton's a man, and he's using it specifically to refer to women (even if they're individual women who may or may not have been in a relationship with him). Miles Davis may have named his album "Bitches Brew," but it was actually his wife, Betty Davis, who coined the title. If someone's got something to say about double standards, discrimination, or the subjugation of women, it's her! I still have mixed feelings about Payton's record for this reason. Just because he works with women doesn't mean that automatically excludes him from being prejudicial towards them, no more than a white musician who hires black musicians can't be racist. You definitely wouldn't want a white musician to name an album after a minority racial slur of any kind, so why is it acceptable to use a gender-based one?

  3. Here is another "open letter" to Nicholas Payton by a much more literate and sane jazz writer than Brent Black, who asks a pointed question: How far is NP willing to go? If he is sincere in his campaign to reject and change the name of what we commonly refer to as jazz, will he also stop playing at jazz venues? Will he stop recording for jazz labels or seek publicity and media coverage from jazz outlets?

  4. It's not just the album title that shows Payton's lack of respect for women. I was disturbed to see him dismiss an African American woman with the last name "Hunt" in this manner on Facebook: " (First name) Cunt, you need to shut the fuck up!"

  5. Payton: We musicians are taking back control of the music. Fuck the New York Times. With all due respect, until I hear Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff sit in at Smalls and rip everybody in the club to pieces, nothing they say matters.

    Colligan: Indeed.

    Indeed? What you musicians don't understand is the fact that there is a difference between artists and critics - as long as you don't understand this fact there's just not use going into details ... One could also say: As long as Nicholas Payton does not write a book that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Martin Williams' Jazz Tradition or Albert Murray's Stompin' the Blues or A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in Bebop Business etc. nothing he says matters whatsoever. Peace!

  6. teeth whitening gelDisplay Racksbecoming singularly serene whenever he rode a neighbor's horse named Betsy. Whenever the child rode atop Betsy, he seemed remarkably peaceful. Isaacson considered this and coupled his own experience with the Bushmen of Africa, related in his 2004 book, “The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert.” Isaacson's research pointed to the

  7. @Anonymous "December 13, 2011 5:48 AM "

    "Indeed? What you musicians don't understand is the fact that there is a difference between artists and critics - as long as you don't understand this fact there's just not use going into details ... One could also say: As long as Nicholas Payton does not write a book that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Martin Williams' Jazz Tradition or Albert Murray's Stompin' the Blues or A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in Bebop Business etc. nothing he says matters whatsoever. Peace!"

    Except for the fact that both NP and GC are Jazz musicians who are talking about jazz, and their own lives. What qualifies Brent Black? The fact that he "may" have been a hack jazz musician? Do Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff play on the level that these two do? I've (and probably way more people) have never heard of these two as players/musicians/composers. So what uniquely qualifies them to speak on music or anyone's life for that matter? Sweet 'F' all. Am I wrong? If they are writers, writing about their own work, or other writers' work, or their own lives. Then they may be qualified to give their educated opinion. That's the thing about opinions isn't it. There should be a caveat to opinions. Not everyone should be entitled to an opinion, but everyone should be entitled to an informed, educated, and well thought out opinion. Peace!

    The Armchair Philosofizah!

  8. BTW. BAM! and BAM again!

    The Armchair Philosofizah

  9. I didn't want to defend Brent Black - I don't know him and I've never heard of him before all that Bitches-nonsense and I don't want to read his stuff. But you just can't put NY Times critics like Ratliff and Chinen in the same category - they write on a high level and they have style and they put a lot of work into their writing, that's something else than all that blog-blablabla ... and they are informed and educated. Sensible jazz musicians like Ethan Iverson say that critics don't have to be musicians to write about music - I mean: What about all those football and baseball experts - are they all great football and baseball players? I don't think so. - Sorry if my English is not up to the Standards of hip motherfuckers like Payton, but English is my third language and since I know that almost all US-Americans don't care about learning more than one language (and sometimes they even have problems with this one language!) I chose the lingua franca of the jazz masters of the universe. Long live American provincialism!!! Tom Gsteiger, Switzerland

  10. Actually, I'm not saying that Martin Williams or Ben Ratliff or Nate Chinen aren't great writers. The problem is they and many other music critics are hired because of their writing, not because of their knowledge of the music.

    I took a class with the late Martin Williams at Peabody Conservatory in 1990. He knew a lot about early jazz, and I learned a lot. However, I'll never forget when he tried to write the chord changes to a simple BLUES on the board and failed miserably. It was really embarrassing. Furthermore, he completely passed over John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, basically dismissing McCoy as "just arbitrary penatonics." What?
    So my complaint, and I believe Nicholas' as well, is that people who don't have the same level of understanding about the music seem to have WAY more influence over the scene than the musicians that sacrifice their lives to become great at playing.

    I've had a lot of luck in my career, and I have a roof over my head and a lot of nice gigs and moments to look back on and look forward to. But, you know, I'd love to play at the Vanguard as a leader someday. But if Ben Ratliff doesn't write about me, then it probably won't happen. This is the way it is. There was that article about "4 up and coming pianists to watch for" or something. I was in New York for 15 years, played with a whole mess of the greatest guys in the music, did 22 CDs as a leader and at least 100 as a sideman and yet I've never gotten that kind of press that those four young pianists got.And It's not just about me. Has there been a New York Times feature article about Gary Bartz yet? Buster Williams? Billy Hart? Lonnie Plaxico?Eddie Henderson? Carmen Lundy? Mulgrew Miller? I didn't think so. Maybe write about the people who have been out here for DECADES doing this shit for real, instead of 4 pianists who have barely started their careers. I don't hate Ben Ratliff or Nate Chinen personally, but in the same breath, FUCK the New York Times.
    And in case you were wondering I looked up those names in the New York Times archives and as far as I could see not one of those people has ever had a FEATURE article. Prove me wrong, somebody!

  11. And I don't hate all the critics as you can see if you read my drop the needle tests of Bill Milkowski and Ted Panken, those guys are cool

  12. It's really more about the influence they wield. They are good writers,very skilled. I'm actually going back and reading Chinen and Ratliff. But it's more about who they choose to write about. We musicians don't actually care about the quality of the writing. We just want to get written about. Hey, If I got a feature in the Times, I wouldn't care if half of it was spelled wrong and the other half was in Chinese! I'd still put it in my press kit for sure!

  13. George, did you see Ted Panken's take?

    Also, agreed about not all critics are the same. It's such a basic idea that everyone forgets in this age of everyone with a microphone just like everyone has a home recording studio...

  14. Last Call - so to say - George, I don't wanna prove you wrong - I'm aware that a big, big amount of extremely great musicians don't get the NY Times articles they deserve - on the other hand I'm a journalist myself and I can tell you, sometimes it's not the writers that are the problem but the editors, but on the other hand you have to agree that the NY Times is not Down Beat or JazzTimes, that means: They just don't have the space to cover everything - think about all the other art forms etc. - And I also think that it is totally wrong to just "support" the critics that have written about you, I mean, common, compared to the writing skills of Chinen und Ratliff Millkowski is just a good hack - and by the way: Have you forgotten his "controversial" Jarrett-put-down for JazzTImes - this really was totally stupid and if you write "Hey, If I got a feature in the Times, I wouldn't care if half of it was spelled wrong and the other half was in Chinese! I'd still put it in my press kit for sure!" then I'm just ashamed: You don't seem to be interested in journalistic quality and good writing but only in your own career - but as a politically aware cosmopolitan citizen I'm more interested in good and cirtical newspapers than in "jazz provincialism" ... Peace and RIP. tom.

  15. Sorry Tom, but you don't understand because you aren't as far as I can see a musician who is trying to work and survive. Do you think I would spend thousands of dollars on a publicist to get a review that is the literary equal of T.S. Eliot? We want reviews so that people will notice us and then we can work. Sure, some writers are more skilled than others, but we as artists have little control over who writes about us. I've seen other musicians spend a lot more money than I did and get one review in the Forest Hills Daily Shopper. This is just a fact. Are you not familiar with the whole idea of publicity?
    Sure, I'm interested in journalistic quality. I read the New York Times among other things for the Non Jazz Related news. But in terms of jazz, they seem to have a certain agenda that I just don't agree with.

    If they have space to do features on Becca Stevens, Ethan Iverson, and Bill McHenry(3 musicians I greatly respect), then why no space to do features on the folks I mentioned above?

    This is exactly the problem, you are looking at it as a writer, I'm looking at it as a musician.

  16. If this is not too personal to you jazz cats, just how many in the field can make a living just playing jazz and not supported by other gigs or supported by a mate? It seems jazz is really a small pond where some big fish prowl.

  17. so george thinks you are to buy a good review? wow....

  18. Not exactly. but without a publicist it's hard to get folks to write about you. Hey, I'm not making this up! Publicity is an industry unto itself, and it's not cheap to hire a publicist. And the guy I worked with did a great job. But this is just reality folks, believe it or not. I'm just telling the truth.

  19. Maybe really the last call ... it seems that I'm really not familiar with the state of "independent" journalism in the States. I'm writing for different newspapers in little cozy Switzerland and I write only about stuff that I really dig, but sometimes the editors say no ... I get very rarerly contacted by publicists and if this happens I tell them that I'm independent and I don't need a push to write about X or Y ... Tell me, George, is it really true that Ratliff & Co. are only writing about musicians that have pushy publicists - this can't be true ... if it's true, it's really sad ...
    Peace once again and forever ... tom.

  20. it is NOT hard to get folks to write about you if you are good.
    if you are middle of the pack it may be hard to get "noticed" but the critic has a right to his opinion. you can not buy good press and then complain when you do not receive it. a critic has the right to call it as they see fit and the reader deceides. you hired a crappy publicist that does not know how to do their job and that is the critics fault?


  22. Wow... George Colligan is anything but second rate. Go see him in a live show, then state your opinion.

  23. Can't we all just get along?

  24. This should be theme song of BAM...ha ha ha!

  25. Wow the haters really come out of the woodwork when it gets controversial. HEy, maybe I am second rate. That's why I'm teaching! Because those who can't......yada yada...anyway, I think there is such disconnect between what the jazz listening public perceives and what really goes on. I didn't create these conditions. I got so many more reviews when I hired a publicity, this is just a fact. Publicity is an industry unto itself. Anyway, hate on me all you want, I guess that,s what the internet has become much of the time......

  26. Please - George has been on over 100 albums, plays piano, trumpet, drums, organ, melodica, and now electric bass, and has written hundreds of tunes. He also appeared in The Score with Cassandra Wilson and on three tunes in the soundtrack. He is truly unbelievable, and I know, because I live with him and have to face MY second-rate talent every day!


  28. OK, I think this thread has run it's course. I'm a little baffled as to why my readers are being so negative, but I suppose that's one of the problems with the internet. Anyway, more content is on the way.

  29. They are being negative because for whatever reason, they are unaware of how incredibly hard you work and how talented you are.

    Chill out, everyone, and go enjoy George's latest album! ;-)

  30. I suspect some of the negativety has to do with dissillusionment. There seem to be a number of posters here who think that the jazz business is somehow different than the rest of the music business, that the cream inevitably rises to the top etc. And while it's true that in the long run, genius is rarely denied, the fact is that there is no shortage of iconic jazz musicians (Monk springs to mind) who were ignored and villified by many respected critics for much of their working lives. And it should be no surprise to anyone that musicians who can afford to hire publicists (or who are contracted to record companies who do so) get more notice than those who don't.

    I honestly don't think there's anything sinister in this, it is simply a fact that the average critic tends to pay attention to that which arrives under his nose with a sense of legitimacy attached. Just as it has been very difficult in the past to get chain record stores to shelve independent product that does not arrive through the conduit of a recognized distributor, so are unsolicited review copies and press kits which major critics receive in the mail pushed to the back of the pile, or, often, simply tossed in the trash without benefit of even a cursory listen. The music industry is huge, and reviewers recieve mountains of stuff. It's a triage process. Most of the time, you could be the second coming of Charlie Parker, but your stuff is not going to get a listen unless somebody credible gets it in front of the guy you want to listen to it. And if you don't have the luxury of being signed to a record label who will undertake publicity for you, you'd best be prepared to hire somebody competent who will.

    The process of "buying" review space in magazines is less formal. No one actually says "buy an ad or we won't review you" (at least they've never said it to me) but after you've had a number of instances where you've bought an ad and gotten a review, and not bought an ad and NOT gotten a review, it starts to become clear what the score is...

  31. As for the notion of jazz critics being "qualified," I should think that not being able to write the changes to a simple blues progression pretty much nullifies your "opinion" on anything else. It would be like me trying to pass myself off as a "writer" when I can't produce a simple, grammatically correct declarative sentence.

    I for one am not demanding that critics be musicians on the level of Colligan or Payton in order to be "allowed" to opine on the subject of jazz. But it does seem a little bit weird that people who are essentially musically illiterate feel qualified to do so. This is (to me) essentially the result of hiring the same people to write about jazz as write about pop music. Classical reviewers on major newspapers usually have at least a bachelor of music degree, it's simply part of the qualifications for the job. Many have advanced degrees in things like composition. None would have trouble writing basic musical fundamentals on a black board.

  32. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

  33. you forget one thing john....the average listener that simply appreciates jazz doesnt give a crap about fundamentals, meter etc...does it swing? thats all they care about. if you write an academic review you cut your audience by 50-75% right off the bat. if the music swings and moves the critic then a well written review should move the reader. kudos on being musically literate. im sure mom is proud.

  34. Wow George! You got a lot of Anonymous people posting. I want to say thank you for your writing and your work on this blog. I've been reading for a long time now.
    One comment to some of the people posting: I am a Woman and I am not offended by the word Bitch, Bitches, or Bitching— the album title, or the songs on the recording. Thank you very much Gentlemen, but, I do not need you to take offense for me or my sisters. I don't think you know what every women wants or how every single one of us really feel. If you are offended, be offended for yourself....not for all of us.
    And by the way, the woman on the cover could be Black, could be Korean, Indian, Japanese, Hispanic, American Indian—there is a Universality about her—which is why that painting was chosen.
    Be well George. I was a fan before and am more so now. Keep it up. Anna

  35. length of time and competency do not go hand in hand....look at nicholas payton and the end result of bitches. both pieces of shit.


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