Sometimes, it’s not what you play, but who you have played it with

This AAJ review of Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes at Jazz Standard made me think about one of the ways we often discuss and write about jazz artists.

We often define players in terms of who they have played with, instead of what they have played. Curtis Fuller is more noted in the article for having played with Coltrane, than for being one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time. Louis hayes is also described by his companions more than his music.

I don’t mean this as a knock on the writer of this particular article, because it is common practice. But I still wonder, Why do we do this? Are we so obsessed with personality or celebrity that we can only take an artist’s music seriously if he has received the endorsement of being allowed to perform with someone more famous than himself?

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4 thoughts on “Sometimes, it’s not what you play, but who you have played it with

  1. It’s a valuable piece of information to know who the musician played with. Knowing that musician X played with Coltrane vs. having played with the Basie Band. That tells me how adventurous the musician probably is/was, it tells me that, on the level of seriousness, it may be worthwhile to listen to, it gives me some indication as to whether I might be interested.

    It’s a piece of information that *can* be abused, but mostly in marketing. I don’t get the sense that it’s that abused in jazz writing.

  2. You are making my point when you say, “it tells me that, on the level of seriousness, it may be worthwhile to listen to”.

    I think there are lots of artists that are “worthwhile to listen to” that haven’t played with some marquee name.

    If all of us as writers and fans would deal with people’s music, instead of their resumes, maybe more of thses lesser know musicians would get heard, and the fans would be able to enjoy more good music that they were unaware of.

  3. I never said at the exclusion of any other musicians. It may be worthwhile to listen to any musician, period. But without some context, forget it. For more modern musicians, my context is a local gig, some live music recordings, mp3 clips at an mp3 store or musicians’ web sites, referral by a friend or colleague on and offline, newspaper articles, radio. I don’t see the situation as either/or, just that it’s valuable to know who they played with.

  4. You said ,”It may be worthwhile to listen to any musician, period. But without some context, forget it.”

    That’s my point. We as listeners all demand some context or recommendation before we will give something a chance. We often don’t judge things solely on their musical effect on us. I think we all (myself included) miss out on lots of good music because of that.

    There are any number of great players here in New Orleans, that haven’t played with any one well-known, and receive little or no press coverage (because the press is even worse than the listeners for needing people to be well known before they will cover them). Most people wouldn’t walk in off the street for a no cover gig to hear these guys play, because they have never heard of them…and they would miss out on great music. I am sure the same is true in most cities.

    BTW, Miguel, thanks for reading and participating. It is nice to know that people that think about music and are willing to voice their thoughts about music are reading Scratch My Brain. I’m not trying to be argumentative, I am just trying to get us all to gamble a little in our listening habits.

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