A Call for a “Masterpiece Moratorium”

Terry Teachout had an interesting piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal decrying the over-representation of Miles Davis’ great album “Kind of Blue” when it comes to jazz in mainstream culture.  It’s not that “Kind of Blue” isn’t worthy, it’s that there’s a lot of wonderful music out there that is rarely mentioned including, in my view, jazz being created today, not just in the so-called golden age.  Teachout’s theme is one we’ve tried to evoke in the Jazz Loft Project repeatedly – in the book, this website, the exhibition – without really stating it.  I signaled the theme with a James Baldwin quote in the book’s prologue:  “History is not a procession of illustrious people.  It’s about what happens to a people.  Millions of anonymous people is what history is about.”  Teachout’s and Baldwin’s points are not exactly the same, but both resonate with Gene Smith’s achievement and their points extend to the array of things that Smith taped off TV and radio, not just the live jazz in the loft.  As I’ve often said in public, we’re fortunate that the home of JLP was the Center for Documentary Studies, where this kind of iconoclastic, unpopular focus is the norm.

-Sam Stephenson


  1. Richard Mitnick Said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    Terry Teachout is no one to hold up to the Jazz listenership. He enraged the Jazz community a few months ago, decrying the death of Jazz by making it an art, and not an entertainment.

    He made no friends in the thriving Jazz scenes in New York City or Philadelphia, the two centers of activity with which I am familiar.

  2. admin Said,

    June 1, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    I followed that furor to some degree. I remember Howard Mandel’s blog had some good comments in response to Teachout’s WSJ piece that you refer to and Teachout and Vijay Iyer were on WNYC debating the topic. It’s a healthy discussion. I don’t believe jazz is dead at all. Primary health care giving isn’t dead either. True jazz musicians and primary care givers will find a way to do it even if the odds (and incomes) are stacked against them. I had a phone conversation about this topic with a physician from Beth Israel on Friday.

  3. Cliff Stanley Said,

    June 1, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

    I didn’t read Teachout’s article, so I should probably keep my mouth shut. But the gist of this kind of critique is usually that putting jazz in the hands of major institutions like Jazz At Lincoln Center, for instance (which is how we deal with capital-A Art in our culture) cuts off its air supply. There’s a kernel of truth in this, I think. But art vs. entertainment is a questionable dichotomy and jazz is big enough to transcend it. In my humble.