This week I tried to start a jazz feud. It may seem like a fairly mindless endeavor, but it's April- one has to do something. It's a great tradition in jazz: hyper-sensitive musicians getting into fuming, drawn-out disputes over perceived snubs and imagined slights- and one that, revived, could really warm up these cold, gigless months. Besides, the jazz world today is so polite and fearful of feather-rustling, a good, old-fashioned fracas might be just the ticket.
The best known feud in relatively recent times was that of Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis in the '80s. It was sparked by an on-stage disagreement, then continued to burn, fueled by insults and put-downs by both parties in the press. It was a masterfully performed conflict played out by two indomitable egos, with the whole jazz world siding with either the crotchety old master or the brazen young upstart; and should serve as a blueprint for aspiring combatants.
(Wynton is someone to watch if you're an emotional-storm chaser- his brand of opinionated cockiness is liable to set off someone's ire at almost any time. Aside from Miles, he's had public run-ins with Lester Bowie, Keith Jarrett, Stanley Clarke, Quincy Jones… Of course he's out of feuding range for a mere mortal like me; my puny Twitter stones would fall well short of his colossal and respected noggin.)
More recently, young New York saxophonist Alex Hoffman wrote a series of Facebook updates calling into question the abilities of many of the music's most respected practitioners, leading to a barrage of hate from almost everyone. This was most entertaining for a few weeks, the Hoff holding his position under a shower of shit; but as a model for one's own potential disputes, too messy and time-consuming to consider.
Over the years, Jelly Roll Morton locked horns with WC Handy over who invented the blues; Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie squabbled over the validity of their respective styles; the Dorsey Brothers were constantly at each others throats; Pat Metheny has repeatedly taken down Kenny G (although not really a jazz feud because I don't think the G-dog ever responded, nor is he a jazz musician. How about a Smooth-Jazz Feud? A Battle of the Blands: two combatants trading meaningful looks until both slip into unconsciousness.)
Today's jazz scene is jam-packed with arrogant, entitled blowhards- somebody needs to step up and get bickerin'!
I tried to start something last year with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, by regularly insisting, online and in-person to friends and bystanders, that he didn't exist. Then he retweeted me, and rendered me powerless. (I'm still not actually convinced. It could have been an Am-bot. Have you ever seen him in person? Are you sure it wasn't a hologram?) This time I made a fairly weak pun about pianist (and inventor of #RockJazz…) ELEW. Now, ELEW's professional persona is profoundly absurd, and well worthy of ridicule, but unfortunately he's a great musician, and I've nothing against him. I think I just don't have the combative personality for this. Besides, swiping at others does rather leave one's own life open to scrutiny, and if you've seen any of my attempts at self-promotion, you'll understand I can't really point the finger of ridicule.
Perhaps the only way for me to get involved is if someone else took a poke at me. If a fellow musician were to start kicking verbal sand in my face, I could jump into the melee quite happily, secure in my position as the unjustly attacked. There should be no shortage of ammunition- surely the very existence of this blog would be enough to get you started. Of course, my assailant would have to be of equal or lower standing in the jazz community, so that does rather limit the contenders. But if you're out there, and you're feelin' like a-feudin', then COME AND GET ME!! (Let me know when you're coming around, and I'll put the kettle on…)