Stanley Crouch is a big fat idiot who is ugly and stupid and an idiot.
Stanley Crouch, in between writing laughible articles about jazz and culture, critically derided novels, fellating Wynton Marsalis, punching people in the face, insulting brilliant musicians who haven't recorded Autumn Leaves
381 times (Matthew Shipp and Dave Douglas) and generally being out of shape and goofy looking, sometimes takes a break from being unpleasant and petty. These few breaks he gets, albeit brief, are usually spent eating and pretending to play drums. Before getting back to doing what he loves (see above.), he usually will eat some more and sit. As he sits, and looks goofy, he prepares his next assault on something that isn't quite dull enough for him.
His latest assault
on John Coltrane's late period in Slate magazine is particularly bothersome to me, as it is obvious he isn't even trying anymore. Though ostensibly a piece praising a recently released Coltrane album, he still manages to get a few of the nonsensical and simplistic barbs in there that make him so well-loved by Ken Burns and similarly unadvernturous and superficial jazz fans who have all the money and power (while Matthew Shipp sits in a crappy one-room apartment in New York):Coltrane died in 1967 and has since achieved a mythic status that obscures the fact that he redefined jazz for the better and for the worse. The better meant an inspired use of minor modes, pentatonic scales, and original melodies that brought a brand new lyricism into the music, which can be heard quite clearly on Crescent, perhaps the greatest studio recording of mature Coltrane. The worse meant undisciplined and formless improvisations of epic length that were more about possession than inspired design—feeling, thought, and technique became lost in the overwhelming aesthetic event. That is why when Coltrane jumped off the cliff into hysteria, he began to lose his audience, which was not prepared, like the rock audience, for formless chaos.
To Crouch, the greatness of Coltrane was not his supernatural talent and singular vision, his passion and power so evident on the early works and the later, more challenging work from Sun Ship
to his dates at the Village Vanguard with Eric Dolphy, but it was his "use of minor modes and pentatonic scales"!
Ladies and gentleman: Beloved jazz critic Stanley Crouch.
Let me try to understand this. So Crouch loves Coltrane's use of modes and scales, but hates the "formlessness" and lack of "inspired design." This is too easy.
The 'formlessness' argument's best rebuttal has been Keith Jarrett's note to Marsalis in the liner notes of the great and completely improvised "Inside Out": "They ask, 'Where's the form'? The music forms itself. That's the form."
As for 'lack of inspired design', Crouch is evidently referring to the fact that Coltrane avoided in his final years using the classic "Melody/Improvisation/Melody-Coda" form, and cliche-ridden bop-inspired (by way of blues and white showtunes) melodic solos full of predictable ooh and ahhs and clear-cut story arcs.
Crouch has probably never heard Eastern music before, or if he has, didn't quite think it up to par. There is quite a bit of music in the world that is improvised, and doesn't seek to make childishly simple statements of A and B followed by A. There is also music that is passionate as any black soul but doesn't have any blue notes and plagal cadences. Not willing to see "his" beautiful art form tainted by anything European (even though every thing in jazz except the blues element is taken from European music to some degree-from the instruments, to the tuning to the tonality to the structure) or (gasp!) African or Asian, Crouch only accepts a bastardized music that he
can call "black" or "American". For someone who has been so hard on white musicians for their abilities, it seems Crouch will deem any idea taken from his ancestor's continent (Coltrane's Africa Brass
) "jumping into an aesthetic abyss". Perhaps it's too
To charge Coltrane with just trying to be hip and being tempted by some chic avant-garde noise is disrespectful and untrue. Coltrane had no desire to be "cutting edge" or "different". He saw himself as going back to a more essential music, more raw, primitive, and free from tradition, so important to him as a highly spiritual and roots-orientated musican and human being. It was not putting on love beads and squeeking and squaking for the delight of the intellectual elite. It was not making an "aesthetic" choice. It was a act of pure, untainted soul, authentic and in your face.
There is more 'jazz' in one second of a 1966 Coltrane solo than in the whole of Wynton Marsalis' catalog. I'm sure if I wasn't a nobody know-it all white kid from Minnesota, and a established journalist Crouch would find me and try to punch me. Both ways I'm all ready for the goofy looking bastard, and will proudly follow the great Matthew Shipp in calling him an "Uncle Tom and a fucking loser."