Thursday, January 12, 2012

Does Good Music Stand A Chance?

"Listen Honey!" The Reflex" by Duran Duran! Their Playing Our Song!"
I suppose every generation looks at the younger generation and says, "Ahh, kids today.....they don't know what good music sounds like. They listen to crap! In my day, we listened and danced to that wonderful old-timey singing group called Duran Duran...Now, THAT's music!" Well, now that I'm middle-aged, I guess I'm no different in wondering what these young good for nothing whipper-snappers are listening to. I've said before that much of today's music sounds, to my ears, like a bunch of people shouting over a car alarm. And I realize that's unfair and there is a lot of good music out there. But I think oftentimes these days, you have to really seek out good music. Good music might not find you on it's own. I think that's because the split between MUSIC and COMMERCIAL MUSIC has really widened. There has always been the commercial element in American Music. But now, because of the breakdown of the conventional model of "release an album and people pay money to buy it at the old-timey record store", the remaining Record Companies(do we even call them that anymore) are hyper-concerned with sales. Unfortunately, the focus is lopsided towards LOOKS, SEX APPEAL, IMAGE, SCANDAL, and SHOCK VALUE. And then market it towards children, who easily succumb to peer pressure and don't want to be out of the loop.

Don't get me wrong; many artists in previous generations were good looking and had a certain image working for them. But they could, when all was said and done, really PLAY or SING! Now, that aspect of being in "music" seems like an afterthought:

I love Katy Perry. I heard that she also is a singer.......
Listen, we got this hot young talent, she's beautiful, she's got tattoos, she can dance, she can do naked backflips- we want to send her out on a world concert tour!

Uhh, what does her music sound like?Can she SING?

Listen, Music, SHMUSIC! We'll worry about that later. We have AUTOTUNE! Singers today don't actually sing! Why would they? We have the technology! You don't use a typewriter anymore?What, Mr. types on his Ipad? Whadya worried about, with the music and the singing?

Some of you might remember the "controversy" of Esperanza Spalding receiving the Best New Artist Grammy last year, beating out that handsome young Canadian Justin Bieber. Many Bieber fans were outraged, and thought that Spalding should "Go Die In A Hole...", amongst other choice insults. The issue the Bieber fans seemed to have with Spalding was that she didn't sell as many CDs, therefore, she must not be as good! It's amazing how the people have been brainwashed into believing the hype: Sales equals Good, No Sales Equals Bad. I wonder how many of the Bieber fans actually went and listened to any Esperanza Spaldling. I wonder if any of them said, "Well, she is a really good singer, plays upright bass, writes her own music, and seems to be poised for a career beyond Bieber, who, once he hits puberty, people will get tired of, and he'll have to move back to Canada..."

Enjoy your hair while you can, Bieber, cause in 20 years you got NOTHING!
Now, I would never tell Bieber to go die in a hole. After all, he's Canadian, and whenever he's at death's door, his hospital stay is totally covered by the Canadian single payer system. But, if he were to win any more awards, I take serious issue, thanks to a band called Dirty Loops. This trio from Sweden has become an internet sensation with their cover of Justin Bieber's "Baby". I'm hooked on this performance! There's a lot of slick re-harmonization, gospel chops drumming, advanced funky bass playing, and phenomenal singing by Jonah (can't seem to find his last name...). If you haven't heard it, I guarantee you'll be walking around you house singing a falsetto "Baby, Baby, Baby..." (Everytime my son hears me do that, he goes, "David, David, David"! Ha Ha!)

What's not to like about that! But I think what's funny is that I really didn't know the original Bieber song; that's because I'm 42 years old and have very little time to listen to Bowl Cut Headed Freaks from Canada. However, I decided to check out the original and see where Dirty Loops got their "inspiration":

OK, so the guitarist can't tune his guitar, and Bieber can't sing in tune, but other than that, it's CLEARLY AWESOME. At least, judging by the screaming teenagers, it must be awesome, right? What am I missing?

I'm being sarcastic, of course. The song sucks, the performance sucks, the music sucks. The singer from Dirty Loops could out sing Bieber with one vocal chord tied behind his back!

If Bieber has any Grammies, or even any money, he should just send it all to Dirty Loops. Come on, Bieber, do the right thing. I won't say go die in a hole, but maybe you should go sit in a hole and think about making some better music....


  1. That 2nd one hurts to listen to, but what's the point in even pointing these things out anymore. The masses hear with their eyes, and listen to what the record companies tell them they like. That's just the way it is and all "real"musicians would do themselves a big favor in accepting that simple truth and moving on. We're always just literally preaching to the choir when discussing this subject anyway.

    Nice writing as always George

    1. and nice picture of Katy Perry. I thought that was one of those ads at first.

  2. Enjoyed reading the entry. Not sure why you had to go off on Justin Beiber quite that much. Not that I like him, nor in fact does my 14 year old daughter thank god. But as we saw with the vitriol over "Bitches" sometimes a little less angst and a little more reason might makethe point stronger.

    Anyway, your premisee is what I wanted to mention. As a listener and not a professional player or critic, etc. I have always been frustrated by the dichotomy between what I generally see on the charts for Jazz and all the really good stuff out there in the marketplace. I see it at my local record store -- yes I have one of those -- and see it with the customers. If it is not well-known, most buyers will not take a chance. Which is not to say there are a lot of good, well-marketed and well-known players, just that there are even more good, unknown, under-marketed and under-appreciated players. The attitude seems to be-- why buy Peter Zak or Gerald Clayton or Luis Perdomo when I can buy Jarrett or Mehldau or Walton? How well do people really know Colligan, Arriale, Williams -- pianists who are great and have been around for a while now? In fact, why buy anything new when I can get the "real" players" on OJC or Blue Note, and probably for less? And god forbid I suggest that there are some outstanding European players to hear -- older guys like Pieranunzi and new guys like John Law and Gwilym Simcock. Europe? If it isn't on ECM can it realy count?

    Whenever I can I try to steer somebody to open up and try a new flavor -- last week it was the new Pilc, another week Bollani. But it's tough as you rightly point out, and know first hand as a musician.

    So I decided to do my small part, and started a blog, expressly for the reasons you cite. I want listeners to hear new things, take a chance, and open up. And sometimes it takes another listener to say that; not much different than movie reviews -- do they matter as much as what your friend said? I hope I can expand my audience from my record shop to others, but who knows? I am at

    and that brings meto the second and I think far more innovative way to get the word out, and that is what Spike Wilner is doingat Smalls Jazz Club. He is live streaming every concert to a subscriber audience, and doing so for an incredibly reasonable rate. From the comments on the Samlls Facebook site it appears he is having the impact I would hope for. He is getting people from all over the world tuned into the music, to hearing /sampling players they might not know, and hopefully down the line to pick up their music or go to their shows. Read the comments, some of them from your fellow musicians, and you getthe idea it works for everyone. Orrin Evans in particular notedthat he used the site to show promoters what the band is like. Some commenters suggested that there be a tie in so once could by the musician's music. another noted that once musicians figure out how to use this technology, they can tailor their perfomrance to it and increase their marketability.

    I will try to do my part -- if you look I did a piece on Laura Dreyer last week -- but the future may really be at Smalls.

    Thanks for a most interesting read.

  3. Bieber also started out as a youtube sensation, so it's not like he was picked randomly, he worked hard put up some videos of himself singing on youtube and then got lucky.

  4. I loved the Dirty Loops video, thanks. There is a lot of great music out there, just don't go looking in the mainstream. The KEXP (Seattle) song of the day blog is a pretty good resource for good new pop music, for example.

  5. hey george....god made bars, hotel lounges, and church on sundays so second rate hacks like you can get a gig and at least be famous in your own mind. a review of blog written by an "educated" musician is destined to play to a rather limited audience. so much for growing the music douchebag. swing and a miss.

  6. An interesting and amusing article! Speaking from the perspective of a UK musician (primarily in, but not limited to, jazz) I definitely sympathize with your points! Here in Britain there is a programme which may have also popped up in the US (or may have even originated there, I'm not entirely sure) called The X Factor. It continues to attract both scathing reviews as a trashy celebration of talentless fame-seekers and lauded as an entertaining and heart-warming family show by various commentators. Most of the people I know, including myself, hang their head in their hands at the very mention of it. It is depressing to see so popular a show on which judges (so-called musicians) weekly show not the slightest jot of technical or even instinctive musical knowledge on any aspect of the contestants' performances.

    What can we do to try and change this?! The above comment has it down to a tee: people hear with their eyes. What hope is there for scruffy jazz musicians in the dingy clubs to which they're now relegated?

    As for the Anonymous commenter of Jan 13th 10.14pm, you seem to exemplify the qualities being condemned in the article! You call the writer of the article a second rate hack and you've never even heard him. I dare say that your insulting reply springs from the kind of narrow-mindedness that results in both the impoverishment of popular music and countless other problems in the world!

  7. where does it say ive never heard of him? where? it doesnt exist. nice try.

    1. Regarding the Anonymous poster of 13 January:

      That's a really mean-spirited and unnecessary comment, don't you think? Mr. Colligan could hardly be described as a "second-rate hack." Unwarranted personal attacks such as yours really don't do anyone any good, and they certainly don't help in promoting your argument, which is rather difficult to discern from your post. I'm all for reading differing points of view, but I'd be hard-pressed to define name-calling as a "point of view."

  8. Never ceases to amaze what people will say anonymously, to one another on the internet.

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