Kay: Well, this does not apply to all critics right?
Mike: Certainly not! Like I said earlier, there are many legitimate critics in the jazz world. I personally don’t like the term “critic” as much as “reviewer”. The word “critic” seems to cause certain journalists to think that it is their job to find flaws in the music and point them out to their readers. This is ludicrous when it comes to jazz since it is improvised music and you expect musicians to take chances and be daring. Of course you might go for something and not exactly bring it off as you intended but if you are an experienced improviser you can usually recover and turn it into something meaningful anyway. It brings to mind something I recall Coleman Hawkins once saying. “If you don’t make mistakes you are not really trying”.
Kay: Yes, I recall a critic in Downbeat reviewing a Cedar Walton record and clocking the exact time in the recording, “7:47”,or something like that in which he proclaimed that Cedar “fudged some notes.” I recall in the next issue a reader complained that it was an example of “self congratulatory hubris in a jazz critic.”
Mike: Yes I sort of recall reading something like that.
Kay: What do you think about a critic like this?
Mike: I don’t!
Kay: You are not bothered when critics say something negative about you?
Mike: Well it hasn’t happened that often. Sometimes it may be called for and I can learn from it. Other times it might be just silly shit like what you just mentioned with the Downbeat critic. I don’t really pay attention to that kind of “criticism”. A writer like that should just hang a sign around his neck that reads “I’m an idiot.” (laughter)
Kay: Can you elaborate on this for a minute? I know musicians who are really effected by negative things a critic can say in a review and it even stifles their playing.
Mike: That is because they let it! Some of those critics that people that Izzy Feldman refer to as “frustrated musicians with an axe to grind” are really coming from jealousy and envy and are saying things to cause a musician to stifle his or her playing. It is like someone trying to put something on your mind so the next time you play it will come up and mess with your performance.
Kay: Yes, that is what I mean. This doesn’t bother you?
Mike: Not really. These type individuals are really insignificant even in the world of other critics who are legitimate and have something important to say and contribute. And believe me there are plenty of those out there and this is why the type you mention are insignificant.
Kay: You mean their own colleagues do not respect them?
Mike: Yes, exactly. I recall an interview conducted with Dizzy in London in 1973. We were playing at Ronnie Scott’s and this guy was interviewing Diz for some publication over there. Dizzy was asked something about his musical concept and he said something to the effect that his music was based on sound fundamentals and he knows that and so he never pays any attention to what critics say because he always knew that his music was grounded in natural laws that the critics were unaware of.
Kay: Wow! That is a powerful statement!
Mike: Yes, so you see, the critic that was focusing on finding “fudged notes” in Cedar’s playing totally missed what was really going down. This is because he was looking for flaws to point out and missed the music. (Laughter)
Kay: I know you have a DVD series called “The Rhythmic Nature of Jazz” in which there has been much talk about in the jazz education field. For example pianist and educator Hal Galper has raved about them on his website. Some of these “natural laws” that Dizzy referred to in the interview are covered in that material, right?
Mike: Yes, actually there are two out and two more to come out in the future. The first one was an orientation one and the second was the fundamentals. Volume three will be Advanced Concepts and Volume Four will be Ultra Advanced Concepts. The whole series is about the natural laws in Dizzy’s music. So you see what Diz was saying was why should he accept criticism from someone who does not know these laws and isn’t even aware that they exist.
Kay: Can you give us an insight into what the one called Advanced Concepts entails?
Mike: Well, I can tell you a story that might give you some clue into what it is about. The weekend that Diz died, they had a private service at St. Peter’s Church in New York that was just for the family and close friends on that Friday. I delivered one of the eulogy speeches at the service and they had the casket there and a viewing and then we all went to the cemetery and buried him. On that Sunday they had the big funeral at St. John the Divine Church that was open to the public. There was a Sunday morning show back then that was called CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Curalt. He was playing an old interview with Diz and Dizzy was playing this rhythm with his hands and he said “Most of the musicians know about the 6/8 and 3/4 and 4/4 occurring simultaneously, but the five is another thing all together. I can play in 4/4 and 5/4 at the same time”. I remember at the time that I had no idea what he was talking about but a process began to unfold for me and I later realized that this was a really profound statement and was the key that opened the door to what we came to know as “be bop.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN OUR NEXT POSTING ON OCTOBER 15TH