To the editors:
Moldy figgery forever!, it seems. Michael Solot is entitled to his opinions about free jazz, but he shouldn’t let them let him indulge in falsehoods and misrepresentation [“Reading: It’s Really Gone, Man,” May 7]. The political consciousness that Solot says made free jazz a vehicle for hating the white man was–according to David Rosenthal in the very book, Hard Bop, Solot was supposed to be reviewing–already at work in hard bop. Indeed, the most talented musician ever (although not solely) associated with hard bop, Charles Mingus, made some of the most in-your-face black-power music of all–and because it was him writing it, most of it’s still powerful and vital, which–to my tastes, at least–is more than can be said of the stultifying funkiness of far too much hard bop.
Furthermore, free jazz was from the first an integrated music. Both bassists on the Ornette Coleman recording that named the music, Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961) were white and one of them, Charlie Haden, has stayed with the music ever since, although not exclusively, to be sure. (The other was Scott LaFaro, who later in the same year became another of jazz’s many car-crash casualties.) It has remained integrated and has embraced influences and players throughout the world.
Yet further, Solot’s implication that Ornette Coleman has had no disciples and no influence is too disingenuous to merit more than an incredulous snort.
Finally, Solot’s propagandistic assertion that hard bop was “the greatest jazz of the century” should be recognized for what it is–an enthusiast’s gushing. All kinds of jazz have produced great music because great musicians have graced jazz all along, from Jelly Roll Morton to Marilyn Crispell, from Louis Armstrong to Lester Bowie, from Sidney Bechet to Evan Parker.
Michael Solot replies:
To someone who is going senile, the unhinging of consciousness from the brute facts of daily life may actually be liberating. I can’t say, because I am not senile. Likewise I am not a fan of free jazz, so the unhinging of jazz from the toe-tapping immediacy of rhythm, swing, and tunes does not seem like a sign of robust health to me, but decrepitude. Of course, I may simply be wrong. To the reader interested in deciding the case for himself, I suggest the following. Sit down and listen to Louis Armstrong play “Potato Head Blues,” and then try the best that Ornette Coleman, or any of his legion of disciples, may have to offer. Ask yourself: Which is in accord with the profoundest impulses and motives of humanity, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, and which is in accord with the current pishposh?