The biggest shock of the day was reading in the NYTimes Book Review a review by Pankaj Mishra of Coltrane:  The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff, the following sentence:  “Jazz’s turn to the avant-garde and exoticisms of the 1960s now seems as inevitable as the rise of atonal music after the breakup of the stable societies of 19th century Europe.”  These days you’re likely to get stoned if you so much as hint that there was any kind of inevitability in the rise of atonal music (whatever that might be).  Fancy not knowing that “we” all now regard “atonal music” (whatever that might be) not only as not being inevitable, but as being a downright aberration or perversion (if they’re different things).  How did Pankaj Mishra fail to find that out?

9 Responses to “Somebody didn’t get the memo”
  1. zeno says:

    ” … in Brahms’s dense motivic usage…” (kg)

    Or in Liszt or Wagner’s dense chromatic and motivic usage, as well.

  2. Kyle Gann says:

    Now now, Rodney, let’s not exaggerate for effect. I don’t think anyone’s ever taken the rise of atonal music as less than inevitable (would that make it evitable?). The question that has been raised, by Jonathan Kramer and others, is whether the so-called necessity of the 12-tone row is actually implicit in Brahms’s dense motivic usage – or whether that was just a “creative misreading” on Schoenberg’s part; a far more limited issue.

  3. DJA says:

    I haven’t yet read Ratliff’s book (and I agree that Porter’s Trane bio is excellent) but my understaning is that at least half of Ratliff’s tome is devoted to Trane’s convoluted posthumous legacy. That alone makes it unique and at least possibly worthwhile.

    I also don’t quite get what exactly is supposed to be controversial in what Mishra said. The emancipation of dissonance was inevitable — as was the subsequent reevaluation of atonality as “just another tool in the toolbox,” peacefully coexisting with all the other expressive tools at our disposal.

  4. No, what I said was that the world did not need another Coltrane bio that was pretty much the same bio as the previous bio’s. The NYT can review each and every one in esperanto for all I care. Come to think of it, that might be a great theme review for the holidays; Books on the 1960’s Jazz Vanguard reviewed in esperanto. This can be done in tribute to Bernard Stollman’s great label ESP.

  5. Rodney Lister says:

    Well, of course, the job of the NYT Book Review is to review books, rather than not to review them because the world doesn’t need another one on whatever subject.

  6. The Porter book is the one to check out.

  7. I guess the real memo that should have gone out is that we really do not need another book on Coltrane, especially one that just reiterates every other previous book written. THE definitive Coltrane book to read is John Coltrane: His Life and Music by Lewis Porter, but I guess writing for the NY Times is like working for Saturday Night Live; everyone gets to be in at least one movie. What is really needed is another John Coltrane.

  8. david toub says:

    My sentiments as well. No music is a perversion. Well, there was that album of some group moaning and groaning and belching away that I heard a few times in the 80’s…but other than that, music is never a perversion.

  9. Alan Theisen says:

    I think that regarding “atonal” music as a perversion is a perversion.

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