Jazz Institute of Chicago

A Modest Reply

A Modest Reply
by Joe Levinson

This essay is a response to NEA survey finds jazz musicians are well educated but underpaid and lacking benefits

I read the NEA report, "Changing the Beat" with a feeling of anger, hostility and sadness. Jazz musicians are fundamentally selfish persons who play the music they want to play for people who think they’re hip but really don’t understand what’s being played.

The NEA’s statement that “respondents considered talent the most important quality needed for pursuing a career in jazz” is mind-boggling. My God! The reason people go into jazz as a “career” is because they have no focus to their lives, have low self-esteem, are basically lazy, and have no marketable skills.

“Benefits” and “health care” wsere never topics that ever entered any conversations I ever had with the musicians I worked with or knew. Money, yes. But usually because the player was hard up and was hitting on me to borrow a fin, or was complaining about the meager wages he was paid at the tavern he worked in, or that the society band leader he played for (because he couldn’t find a gig in a “jazz club”) stiffed him on the overtime wedding gig he played Saturday night.

Now, the government wants to “study” the field to analyze jazz musicians’ needs. The NEA should look at the life of J.J. Johnson, the genius trombonist, and “study” the years he worked as a mailman! There isn’t a jazz musician I know who hasn’t relied on something far more mundane than playing jazz to support his family (if he even has a family). . .something like working behind the counter at the local hardware store, selling shoes, teaching elementary school classes, hawking insurance, screaming in the pits at the Mercantile Exchange, relying on marriage to a rich spouse, or enjoying the estate of a well-heeled granddaddy.

Playing jazz will always be a selfish, self-centered activity that is usually uncreative, and often boring to the player and the listener. In order to clean it up, I recommend starting with the banishment of all drum and bass solos followed by a Congressional mandate stating that all jazz compositions have a beginning, a middle, and an end, be written in either 4/4 or 3/4 time and be only 12, 16, or 32 bars in length.

This would be followed by a police-enforced rule stating that all jazz be played only in taverns or bars and never on the stages of symphony halls, amphitheaters or opera houses, and never be performed in public parks for people lying on blankets eating junk food.

The United Nations should issue an edict forbidding jazz festivals throughout the world. Polka bands, reggae bands, rap artists, lederhosen troupes, and banjo bands will be permitted to continue playing festivals however.

I recommend that no reporters, writers or journalists be allowed to interview any so-called jazz musician asking the meaning of the tunes he writes or plays, how he wrote them, why he wrote them, or if he was under the influence of a controlled substance when the “creativity” happened.

Furthermore, any wife or girlfriend of a jazz musician should be permanently barred from writing memoirs of her relationship with said musician and be banned from being in the audience when said musician is playing.

A government edict should be created to prevent any jazz musician from naming his or her group anything except “The [Name of The Leader] Trio, Quartet, Quintet, Septet,” etc. Jazz groups playing under the aegis “The Heavenly Five,” “The Obscures,” “The Despicables,” “The Chicago Armpits,” “The Rancid Toenails,” or other arcane titles shall never be allowed a recording contract or access to a riser in a tavern.

The NEA should eliminate anything pertaining to education programs for jazz musicians because too much education is a sure-fire impediment to creative endeavor. The attempt to “teach” young people to “play” jazz should be a capital offence, punishable by death. It is a disgusting, vile idea that must disappear forever. Jazz programs in schools, colleges, and universities should be ended at once and be unfunded.

All living jazz musicians should be sent to specialists for psychological rebirthing and the government should then give them well paying day jobs with salaries above $60,000 annually so that in the future they can totally withdraw from any need to play jazz and concentrate on memorizing Barry Manilow and Andrew Lloyd Weber songs and begin to collect Kenny G CDs.

That’s basically it.

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