One of the Reasons to Play

(3/13: Sarah Deming offers a post-storm essay: “My Husband, the Misogynist.”

FINAL UPDATE! (one last thing below, from October 8, 2017)

Tonight a tweet came in from Rachel Z, who’s a great musician and fellow piano player.

rachel z

This was the cue I needed to redo this page. People I don’t know have been yelling at me on Twitter since day one. I guess they were correct all along, but I take the word of a musician I respect over a stranger. I screwed this up.

As a man I cannot know what it’s like to be a woman in a boy’s club, and jazz is definitely a boy’s club.

There’s great information in this interview with Glasper. But a friend told me: “In an era of divisiveness, the blackest pianist and the whitest pianist sit down to talk serious music and the question people come away with is, ‘do you guys hate women?’”

I think Glasper may be less at fault than my knee-jerk response. I’ve been so sick to my stomach since the election that I can barely see straight. Now that our head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is denying that climate change is man-made, the whole thing seems to be on a countdown to extinction. I want to blame whoever I can. Blaming the right is obvious; I want to blame the left too.

Truthfully, I still think the left has blame to take. However that’s no excuse for trying to cut off the protests of women before they start. The women have a right to protest.

Sincere apologies to Reid Anderson and David King in the Bad Plus. who had nothing to do with the interview or any content on DTM, and who almost certainly would have stopped me from hitting “post” if they had oversight.

Overheard from a source at NPR: “Tell Ethan that Trump got elected because people let powerful men blather on without calling them out!” Noted.

October 8, 2017: sexist DTM

October 9. I was still too defensive in my apology above. Robert Glasper’s post was better than mine.

[Original post below]

There’s been pushback on social media about some of the things Robert Glasper said in the DTM interview. I have also been criticized for letting the comments stand.

In case it isn’t clear, there’s hardly an interview on DTM where I agree with every statement an interviewee makes. But I don’t think I’d get such interesting interviews if I questioned everything. The only time I’ve “editorialized” was after Ron’s comments on Garrison and Wynton’s comments on hip-hop. Couldn’t let those slide. With Stanley, Masabumi, and once or twice with others we argue a point a bit. But those aren’t my best moments, either. Just let ’em talk!

Someone said the Glasper interview was worthy of Notes and Tones. For me that’s the highest praise imaginable.  If you go back and look at Notes and Tones, the comments are not politically correct. (This is gravely understating the matter.) That’s the tradition I want be in, and frankly the tradition I most respect: “Warts and all.”

Still, I did debate cutting Glasper’s comments about women. But I figured a saucier edit would be a window into his philosophy and also get me more page views. Glasper okayed the final form.

One Facebook post complaining about the interview begins: “The jazz world needs to speak out RIGHT NOW. The vile sexism in this interview is beyond disgusting.”

I’m a liberal and I’m feminist: this is a case of other liberals and feminists seeing a weakness and attacking. This is part of why Trump won.

There is genuine and serious oppression of women in the world. Glasper (and I) are not part of that serious oppression. The right knows this, of course, and the right revels in the petty political debates that hamstring the left.

Anyway, Glasper’s most important musical influence is his mother, and his manager is a smart woman. Fervently proclaiming that Glasper is against female intellect or female power is ridiculous.

What is potentially problematic is that a big part of Glasper’s style is informed by black dance music mostly about sleeping with young hot chicks. The “Thong Song” is old at this point, but the summer it was the big hit, I walked around with a slack jaw. “This is really an OK song?” I kept wondering. As far as I know, the politics of music in that thread have not gotten better since.

(Indeed, one of the reasons I don’t have much to do with a lot of hip-hop is I can’t figure out how to relate to lyrics I personally find misogynistic. However, there’s also a way that current black music uses sex to intentionally ruffle the feathers of white people. It seems to me it must harm some young women, though. These are deep waters that I mostly stay away from, and certainly can’t navigate with any wisdom.)

Those angrily proclaiming “speak out!” about Glasper should really be going after “Thong Song” and all the current black dance and party music declaring an apparently misogynistic stance if they want to change the world…

But, of course, these agitators know that the “Thong Song” world won’t care. That world makes too much money and controls too much real estate. But: Glasper and I are much smaller, so we might care, right?

In fact, I do care, I’m vulnerable as a feminist and liberal, so I am therefore actually a prime target. Congratulations! I’m genuinely flustered!

(I’m also — don’t be too shocked– quite pleased when there are many cute young women at a Bad Plus show. But much more, I’m enthralled by the intellectual power of women. I didn’t communicate that in the interview, maybe I should have, but poke around DTM, the proof of that assertion is there.)

A lot of the time, this kind of liberal self-policing is less about justice and more about some kind of repellent search for personal power: It feels good to knock someone down and be self-righteous.

Again, this petty stuff is part of why Trump won. Again, the right loves it! They are a monolith. They back their insane fascist, no matter what, in a situation where the phrase “beyond disgusting” could be used with total accuracy.

So many on the left try to gain small victories by making the nearest lefty take a hit. But there have been too many hits and the ship is going down. Now we wonder what the hell comes next.

On a lighter but definitely related note: this tweet by (self-proclaimed) “black feminist cyborg” Hannah Giorgis‏.

UPDATE: two days later:

Apparently for many Glasper and I are the villains of the hour. I knew this was coming when I was deliberately tagged on Twitter with a chorus of the righteous indignant, the lead agitator proclaiming:

“The jazz world needs to speak out RIGHT NOW. The vile sexism in this interview is beyond disgusting.”

I could have turned the other cheek, but I felt I had to take one for the team. I’ve thought a lot about Trump’s win, and remain convinced that the circular firing squad of the left is part his bewildering success. If just a few people will be quicker to look inside themselves and less hasty to condemn after reading what I wrote, then that’s all I can really hope for.

A few regrets about my post:

I wish I had linked to this series about Internet Outrage on Slate, which made a powerful impression at the time and is now validated through personal experience.

I wish I had made it more clear that it was the tone of the aggression that bothered me so much. Anthony Dean-Harris, someone I admire, wrote: “Stopping everything to say ‘perhaps you should think a little harder before saying something like ‘”women don’t like solos”‘ is not why Trump won…”

What?! This is not the tone of what Robert and I were up against: that tone was that of a hate mob who found their next victim. This tone, indeed, is part of why I think Trump won. Internet Outrage is a powerful force in our culture. The left has to take some blame for this: Not as much as the right, true, but the left has to take some of the blame. Still, if someone as smart as Dean-Harris missed this point, obviously I should have made this more clear.

I wish I stated my feminist credentials, I guess. Seems comparatively trivial, but, since some people are asking me on Twitter if I think women should be allowed to play jazz (!?): I am deeply indebted to Geri Allen as a musician, I have imitated her on every gig I’ve ever played since age 16 or so…. On my first boogie-woogie album my favorite track on side A was “Little Joe From Chicago” by Mary Lou Williams. I was too young to even comprehend she was the only woman on the album, it simply was my favorite. (I still play that piece in recital today.)… Charlie Haden, my master and occasional political activist (as long as you put him up in the best hotel in town), once told me, “I don’t think women should play the bass.” I spoke back to him, “Oh, c’mon! You’re a little white guy yourself!” Charlie scowled at me….Concert pianist Ilan Rechtman once said to me, “Martha Argerich is the best woman pianist.” I shot back: “Martha Argerich is the best pianist! Take out that modifier!”…I produced  and performed in a concert of Louise Talma, Miriam Gideon, and Vivian Fine for the Abby Whiteside Foundation, written up here: “Fine, Gideon, and Talma were frequently played during their long lifetimes. Few other American women composers garnered as many awards or made as many recordings, yet their music is seldom heard today except by specialists. Tonight’s concert keeps these vital voices on the concert stage.” My teacher at the time was beloved Whiteside disciple Sophia Rosoff (profiled on DTM by Sarah Deming). My current teacher, John Bloomfield, is a Dorothy Taubman disciple. Between Whiteside, Rosoff, and Taubman, I give thanks to the genius of women intellectuals every day in my piano practice. Another important mentor was beloved choreographer Pearl Lang. I have not interviewed any women for DTM: there have been four outstanding candidates that I’ve extended offers to that haven’t come to fruition yet. I’m not naming my peers in case they don’t want to be associated with DTM anymore, but I expect at least one of them to appear later this year. If someone wants to start paying me for the blog I’ll get on it right away, starting with a trip to visit Allen ..My other great passion is crime fiction. On the occasion of Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, I got up my hind heels and made a speech in her defense. Of course, sadly Dame Agatha was a touch anti-semitic: also,  one of her best books was originally called Ten Little Niggers.

In truth, the intersection of wonderful artistry and on-point political behavior remains an elusive goal.

Final edit (I hope): People want me to condemn Glasper’s comments. I don’t, partly because, as I alluded to previously, I perceive his music and personality to be connected to black popular music today. From what I can tell, he seems to have been awarded that status, as the connector. I also perceive much current black popular music to be mostly about sex, sometimes straight up nasty, and not infrequently misogynistic. I’m uncomfortable with this stuff. It’s not music I listen to or interact with much. Of course there’s also politically advanced current black music: It seems like Beyoncé is the most important musician in world, politically speaking. (Maybe she’s most important musician, period.) This is really stereotypical shit I’m typing now: I’m not proud of this paragraph. But in a world where the ultra-white La La Land is acclaimed as a jazz movie, I’m not going to police Robert Glasper. It’s up for fellow black musicians to police black music, not me. It’s simply not my place. As far as I’m concerned, Glasper gets to do what he wants, ’cause if there’s no current black culture in jazz, we can all take up the tents and go home.

Also, the erotic and the creative are intertwined. I got good at piano partly to impress girls. That was not the biggest reason, but it was a factor. Vladimir Horowitz said he wanted to “fuck” his audience (Dubal: Evenings with Horowitz). John Coltrane, when asked about three wishes, gave one of them as, “Three times the sexual power I have now.”  I could never have said what Glasper said because I’m overtly concerned with feminism — but I’m not here to police other people’s relationship to sex and creativity, either.

Lastly, I do think there’s a problem with sexism in jazz. Of course. When Shimrit Shoshan died, I wrote:

I always appreciate it when students show genuine concern about learning the details. One time Shimrit Shoshan brought in a bootleg of Monk practicing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and I was truly impressed. Talk about the right kind of apple for the teacher!

I didn’t know her well, and I’d never heard her play outside of a few tunes at class. But I loved her direction and told her so. She was into not just Monk but Horace Silver, Herbie Nichols, Randy Weston, and Andrew Hill. 1950s piano madness, the blacker and weirder the better.

Honestly, I thought the only thing that might hold her back was her stunning good looks—an asset I’ve seen become a burden more than a few times in the relentlessly hetero-male NYC jazz scene. But I wasn’t too worried, and looked forward to hearing what she had figured out in a few years.

I’m sure everyone who knew her was astonished to hear of her sudden passing today. The last time I saw her she was young, healthy, and vibrant. But I’ve talked to a few folks and the sad news is 100% confirmed.

While finding her path, Shimrit would definitely have formed an opinion about the bridge of “Well You Needn’t.” I wish I could find out what it was, or would have been.

There’s a problem with sexism everywhere. But at the same time, jazz is better off than many disciplines. The singers are seminal, and you can’t write a truthful history of instrumental jazz without Mary Lou and Geri at the very least. If you want to get deeper there are many important women players, and important audience members, too. (Let’s start with Baroness Nica, who asked ‘Trane about wishes.) The top band at Stanford jazz workshop last summer was over half women, and they sounded great. Hell, there’s nothing Glasper and I can do to keep women out of jazz: they been here and they are still comin’!