Jazz Bashing in the Media – Offensive? Funny?

Last night I saw Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard with Leroy Williams on drums and Ray Drummond on bass. I’ve seen Barry so many times since moving to New York, but it’s been a while so I was glad I could make it out.

I love his touch at the piano, his chords, everything. Last night he was in fine form and moving seamlessly between tunes. His version of ‘Round Midnight was really moving. I admire his complete freedom at the instrument; his harmonic creativity is really exceptional (and reminds me of Erroll Garner, at least conceptually. They both seem to be able to make any chord resolve to any chord).

Since I started seeing Barry live he has always given some cultural or human advice during his concerts and shows. Sometimes he speaks about New York and how it’s people are special, but often he talks about Jazz and how it’s being perceived by the media or the world at large. Last night was no exception. At the end of the second set he started talking about David Letterman’s show. He said he was watching the show and during Dave’s walk-on the band played a Jazz tune. When the band stopped and Dave began his monologue he asked the band what the song was, and when the band replied it was a song by Monk, Dave said, “Don’t play it again.”

Now, oddly enough, I remember seeing this too. At the time it rankled me, but I didn’t think about it too much.

Then Barry continued to talk about another TV show: The Office. He specifically mentioned the episode where Angela and Dwight are talking outside and Dwight says, “Jazz is stupid.”

He described this scene in COMPLETE DETAIL. I also remember seeing this and finding it mildly (and randomly) offensive, especially because that week Parks and Recreation also ran a somewhat Jazz-bashing scene.

So, first of all I’m surprised that Barry watches TV (and we watch the same shows), but I’m glad to know that these scenes didn’t sit well with him. It may seem a trivial thing to be bothered about; I know they are just TV shows and really these scenes seem inconsequential, but why does the media make fun of Jazz? Why is it funny to people?(Anchorman’s Jazz Flute, anyone?) Should it be offensive? Is it offensive to you?

And so we don’t end on a sour note – my favorite Barry Harris cut of all time:

UPDATED 5/24/13: read this response from fellow blogger @BirdIsTheWorm

@BirdIsTheWorm Response

Also, I want to say that I think these instances mentioned in my blog ARE, for the most part, funny. Some offended me (The Office scene) but Jazz Flute is hilarious.

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2 Responses to Jazz Bashing in the Media – Offensive? Funny?

  1. lipreadingcartoons says:

    In my opinion, jazz fans need to be less insecure and precious (FWIW i’m a huge jazz fan). Every other genre of music is fair game and gets made fun of constantly. I wouldn’t take the Letterman thing or any of the other examples given as ridiculing jazz. Another example is the Will Ferrell movie where he is a Nascar driver, Talladega (sp?) Nights. The scene where the french guy comes in to the bar and puts some jazz on the juke box, the people in the bar react as if they’ve been violated and tortured. It’s funny on many levels (similar to The Office clip it’s more about making fun of the characters than jazz itself. I know it’s more complicated than that; even though it’s making fun of the characters, viewers relate to the characters… also the whole ‘truth in things said in jest’ thing, societies perception of jazz in general), but again i don’t see it as taking a dump on jazz from a great height.

    Lisa Simpson being an advocate of jazz does more damage in my opinion. She’s so cringeworthy, the ‘Lisa’ episodes generally suck, and jazz is regularly portrayed in a ‘Bleeding Gum’s Murphy’ fashion on The Simpsons.

    Your post made for interesting reading, and i can see where you are coming from, but the ‘why are they making fun of us?’ angle is up there with the ‘why does nobody like us?’ topic which comes up regularly.


  2. After spending a weekend with Dr Harris, I too was surprised at how knowledgeable he was about the pop culture! He spoke at length about Lady Gaga, saying what a waste it was that she had to do ‘all the stuff’ to get noticed, because he thought she could really sing. And of course he mentioned the Letterman comment several times privately and during the performance– he was deeply hurt by it.


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