Stanley Crouch and percussionist James Mtume on the evolution of modern jazz
Beneath the Spin * Eric L. Wattree
I recently watched the debate between columnist Stanley Crouch and percussionist James Mtume on the evolution of modern jazz with great interest. Crouch, the steadfast jazz purist, essentially took the position that much of what’s passing for jazz today is actually a corruption of the art form, while Mtume took the position that Crouch was simply out of touch with the new face of jazz.
In my opinion, Stanley Crouch was right, and James Mtume was simply remaining consistent with what his musical philosophy seems to advocate – playing to the audience and giving applause priority over substance. But Crouch made the mistake of not framing the issue in a way that would allow him to sieze the bottom line. It’s not about the new versus the old; what the discussion is actually about is quality versus lesser quality, and that can be measured.
First, just because something is new doesn’t mean that it’s better. The problem with a lot of electronic music is electronics is being used to camouflage a lack of technical competence. There’s so much noise and electronic distortion going on that it gives the musicians the “freedom” to play bad notes, be less than melodic, and play musical nonsense. Where, on the other hand, acoustic music is intimate. It’s purely about the musician and his technical ability. Period. If Bud Powell played a bad note, or played the wrong chord progression, it would stick out like a soar thumb. But if he was playing electronic music there’s so much chaos and distortion going on that nobody would notice.