'You Would Not Call A Ditch The Grand Canyon': A Letter To The Editor

A while ago, I started noticing that a commenter named Albert Reingewirtz, who chose the nickname "Poupic," was leaving a series of strongly-worded comments on NPR Music jazz stories. Whenever an artist was classified as jazz, but he didn't feel the artist fit that designation, he was not shy about making his feelings known. A sample comment, from a recent Esperanza Spalding feature which I wrote:

You are pushing again this pretty face Esperanza again as a Jazz singer. Maybe she can do it but what she sing ain't Jazz. Someone is probably paying you under the table to pus her as a Jazz singer. Do you mind telling us who it is? Why are you bent on destroying the classical music of America with watered-down something else?

First, I have never taken any money from anybody representing Esperanza Spalding. Furthermore, I sensed that I ought to contact Reingewirtz for further comment. I asked him if he would write a statement which would lay out his point of view in greater detail. Edited sparingly for grammar and format, with his approval, here is what Reingewirtz sent me:


To Mr. Patrick Jarenwattananon

Thank you for the opportunity to express not only my view, but also what the traditional view of what Jazz is — mostly held by great authorities on the subject.

You mention Esperanza Spalding who you think is a Jazz musician. I had almost succeeded in forgetting her already. The cut you presented begins with her scat singing and her saying something like, and I paraphrase: "this is not what I want to do and it's the last time you will hear me doing it." In other words, she thinks that she is much better because she plays "the much improved new Jazz."

In fact, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan for example sang often in that style of Jazz. Ms. Spalding, by putting herself above giants of Jazz is unpalatable and disrespectful. I agree she has the chops to sing and play Jazz, but she doesn't.

I have no idea why anyone would think that Esperanza Spalding's music has anything to do with Jazz. The fact that she is black and plays the upright bass and is very pretty ain't enough to be Jazz. Her dismissal of scat singing is exactly what you are all doing when you make a special effort to call Jazz pieces of music that are not Jazz — even if the musicians are great musicians. Yo-Yo Ma is a great musician, but his music isn't Jazz. Neither is Ms. Spalding's and most of what you include as Jazz.

Maybe you should listen to Louis Armstrong for a change. That is Jazz! Musicians who ignore Armstrong are not playing Jazz but are at best borrowing something from Jazz. Duke Ellington certainly knew what Jazz is, and he defined it well: "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing." That "thing" is the rhythm, the blues, the black church, the feeling you get when listening to Miles, Art Blakey, Dizzy, Chet Baker singing "My Funny Valentine," Bobby Timmons' "Moanin,'" or a cut like "Circle in the Round."

For some reason, Jazz musicians have been given the short end of the stick for decades even though they've dedicated all of their being and their talent to preserve our national heritage — this uniquely American art form called Jazz. It is time to get on the right track and give dues to real Jazz musicians and not poor copies.

I became a Jazz fan when I first heard Sketches of Spain. In fact, I stopped listening to the "new" Miles after Bitches Brew. Similarly, Freddie Hubbard had run off the track but he later made a public mea culpa that he had stopped playing "children's music" (his words). So, you see I am in great company. Yes, I get mad when anyone makes listeners mistake something for Jazz while really it isn't Jazz.

You have the power to give people a chance to appreciate what is theirs, as Americans. You would not call a ditch the Grand Canyon, would you? So why call something Jazz when it isn't?

Albert Reingewirtz
Havertown, Penn.


I think you can tell I don't agree with all of Reingewirtz's views. As pianist George Colligan recently wrote, "There isn't any literal swing on this record, but I'm an advocate of judging things by what they are rather than what they aren't."

But I don't aim to take down the man whom I invited to share his opinion. In fact, I do take something important away from this: No matter how many new styles of improvised music emerge, there is still very much a demand and vital need for the hard-swinging, blowing over changes, bluesy mainstream of jazz. It is something we should continue to examine intelligently throughout NPR Music's jazz coverage.

Finally, for reference, below is the video of Esperanza Spalding that Reingewirtz alludes to.

YouTube

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.