Reflections on Clive James “Cultural Amnesia” 3

It seems that it’s not just Clive James who thinks that jazz music lost something  with the coming of experimentation and bebop. Clive Davis, at the end of a Times  review of  LPO Regna Ensemble performance of The Birth of The Cool by Miles Davis, commenting on the some of the other material on the programme, mostly composed by the concert supervisor Scott Stroman,  asserted that if you wanted proof  that  contemporary jazz musicians have all but lost the ability to write pithy, memorable tunes, look no farther”, and he added that “there is still an awful lot we can learn from the era of the 78rpm”  

That of course is not quite the same thing as as being unequivocally dismissive of everything that is produced after “the era of the 78rpm” which is pretty much what James is. What Davis is saying is that modern musicians are incabable of writing in that form, and to me that is very much like saying our poets are incapable of tackling a lyric or a sonnet form. How often do we hear critics complain about poets who have not mastered those froms? Actually, more often than you’d expect.

The truth is that the critic cannot legislate for the creator. The creator has, and should have, the final word. If he or she does not feel that “memorable, pithy tunes (or, in the case of poets, the lyric or sonnet)” are what best express his or her intentions, then there very little that anybody, least of all the critic, can do about it. The artist in the end has to be taken on his or her own terms. The artists output must always be judged on what it is, or on what it aspires to be, and not on what it isn’t or what it has no pretensions of being.       


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