Badbadnotgood: Leave Jazz Alone

Behold: A white piano trio that is not full of shit

This morning, I finally caught up with the jazz internet hoopla surrounding the Toronto-based trio Badbadnotgood (BBNG). I will not link to any of their music here, because they have received plenty of attention already.

I will, however, link to Peter Hum’s excellent take.

Read that, and then come back to see why I even bothered weighing in: because this group exposes the racist underbelly that haunts today’s systems of music distribution and consumption, something that many jazz musicians have been diligently and intelligently resisting for decades. 

I know that many people in the jazz community get sick of talking about race, especially in the wake of the whole “#BAM” thing, but bear with me on this one. Sometimes, I see or hear something in my online jazz meanderings that hits me like a punch in the gut, pissing me off for no apparent reason. When that happens, the first thing that I have trained myself to ask is, “does this have something to do with race?” Almost always, the answer is “yes.”

The recent BBNG brouhaha is no exception. These three young white Canadians have become internet sensations thanks to, as Hum puts it, “a video camera and a few famous people in their corner.” Along the way, the trio has gone on the record disparaging the jazz tradition, the jazz education system that they recently abandoned, and previous jazz-meets-hip-hop collaborations.

I now direct you to one of the original such documents, Gang Starr’s 1990 music video for “Jazz Thing”:

The key line comes 3:10 into the clip:

The real mystery is how music history
Created Paul Whiteman or any other white man,
And pretended he originated,
And contended that he innovated
A Jazz Thing.
Schemin’ on the meanin’ of a Jazz Thing

I know that this opens me up to the criticism that, like Robert Glasper, I’m “stuck in 1990” — but still, I find this relevant. In her profile of BBNG in Toronto’s Now magazine, Anupa Mistry positions these three young men in the same way that 1920s newspapers lauded Whiteman: as an innovator on the leading edge of jazz. The only difference is that while Whiteman famously endeavored to “make a lady out of jazz,” moving it from its lowbrow street origins into respectable middle-class society, BBNG seem intent on pimping out the tradition instead, dragging it into the gutter along with their misogynistic hip-hop champions Odd Future.

Now, you might ask: why is race a factor in this dilemma? Certainly, if these three musicians were not white, they would be garnering just as much attention, perhaps even more. But I’d contend that it takes a certain kind of naivete, bred in the suburban illusions of racial privilege, to speak and act the way that these three young men have in the face of their fleeting fame. How do I know this? From personal experience. I now offer exhibit B:

That clip features another group of white, college-age kids trying to meaningfully cover African American music with their still-developing jazz chops (albeit in 2005, before YouTube existed to perhaps lift them from obscurity.) The band, The Shark Spaceship, also featured a certain young trombonist whose writing might be familiar to you . . . yes, that’s me (and yes, the myspace page still exists.) I bring this up simply to point out that, at age 19, I had no idea about the implications of our group feebly copping these tunes, and fortunately I didn’t have to because nobody outside of the Amherst college party circuit ever heard us play.

But now that BBNG has blown up a little bit, and still position themselves as “jazz rebels,” I think it’s important for someone to stand up and say, “please leave jazz alone.” I have been disappointed that at least one jazz writer whose work I enjoy, Anthony Dean-Harris, has chosen to hitch himself to the BBNG bandwagon. This recklessly devalues the truly innovative contemporary jazz musicians such as The Bad Plus and Jason Moran’s Bandwagon to whom he compares BBNG.

When he writes, “their brazenness in speech, interviews, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter is very reminiscent of Miles Davis’ unfiltered honesty,” Dean-Harris carelessly crosses a line by failing to note that Davis’s brazenness spoke out against a lifetime of racist oppression and music industry bullshit. By contrast, BBNG’s arrogant whining is a slap in the face to the generations of musicians who have worked tirelessly to bring jazz to places like Humber College in the first place. The only bullshit that they cite in the Now interview is that their jazz teachers made them learn Charlie Parker solos . . . boo fucking hoo! And as Ted Warren has pointed out, BBNG even used the school’s practice rooms and equipment to record the video that has brought them so much attention — the poor souls!

To be honest, I don’t really care if these musicians continue to play or have success as hip-hop hangers-on. What I do care about, though, is that people with an investment in nurturing and supporting the jazz tradition as a generative, positive artistic endeavor firmly reject these angry white boys as readily as they claim to have rejected jazz.

The real guilty parties here, I believe, are those who mistake anger for creativity, destructive impulses for creative ones, and having a microphone for having something to say. Please, let’s quit schemin’ and keep the focus on musicians with the humility to recognize that they’re standing on the shoulders of giants (David Ryshpan wisely nominates Kris Bowers as one shining example) rather than falling into this sort of trap:

Comic by Barry Deutsch

UPDATE: Anthony has responded to my post in a new article at Nextbop, and I left a comment there as well. In a nutshell, I wrote:

This whole postracial rhetoric veils the persistent, pernicious reality of racism today (Trayvon Martin anyone?) and the need for jazz to continue to act as a bulwark against it, as an art form that creates beauty in the face of it. And if artists like Chuck D are any indication, hip hop has the opportunity to move in that direction as well. Throwing all that to the wind and “taking jazz to the mosh pit” is, to me, a naive but destructive act of violence against this tradition.

UPDATE 2: For an idea of what amazing jazz innovation and experimentalism can sound like these days, check out last night’s WBGO/NPR Music recording of the Craig Taborn Trio from the Village Vanguard, now available online. No Bird clones here . . .

UPDATE 3: Ethan Iverson responded to my prompt about BBNG at his blog. He includes this provocative nugget:

Hey, local music should be future anyway: Pretty soon we won’t be able fly in airplanes to tour. Playing the long game is the only answer.

About Alex Rodríguez

Writer, Organizer, Trombonist
This entry was posted in Education, Jazz Journalism, Links. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Badbadnotgood: Leave Jazz Alone

  1. dermott says:

    This is all bullshit. The only people creating this ‘BBNG Bandwagon’ are you boorish jazz snobs. There is way too much assumption and blind judgement going on here.

    • arodjazz says:

      I have to admit, I do derive a certain perverse pleasure when a stranger calls me a boorish jazz snob on the internet — thanks for that! I’m pretty sure, though, that this blog post will have very little impact on the number of Youtube hits their next video receives . . .

      Seriously, though, I’d love to know more about the assumptions and blind judgments that you think I am making. I thought that my arguments were pretty thorough, but if I missed anything, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

  2. adlermusic says:

    Thanks for this, Alex. The complicating and ironic factor here is that Glasper has been dogging the jazz tradition in his recent interviews as well. He has a right to – I just disagree strongly with his view that the current jazz scene is somehow stuck in the past. It really isn’t.

    I think the Glasper viewpoint and the BBNG viewpoint have a common problem, in a way: it’s the implicit suggestion that they’re the only ones out there who are pushing boundaries, when in fact tons of musicians are. (As Peter Hum ably demonstrated.) Of course when BBNG talks shit it has a different kind of sting – and you have a point about the race issue there.

    I’m starting to think that part of the responsibility of jazz writers is to inform jazz *musicians* about the wider swath of music that’s being done by their peers. A lot of musicians are busy with their own thing and they’re not necessarily in a good position to know much detail about the various overlapping scenes. We can do a better job of getting our coverage out to musicians, and simply talking to musicians more about who else we’ve been checking out.

    Re Paul Whiteman: very loaded and problematic history, but the pitfall of the Gang Starr thing is it’s a mistake to dismiss all of Whiteman’s work – with Bill Challis and Bix Beiderbecke, for instance. Whiteman went through a period of leading a legit (if very commercial) jazz group, and those accomplishments should be recognized. The “King of Jazz” issue is another matter.

    • arodjazz says:

      Thanks for being the one to complicate the Whiteman issue, David. I am certainly not one to dismiss all of Whiteman’s ouvre — after all, he employed Jack Teagarden for most of the 1930s! My issue is that Mistry’s article paints with the same broad brush that Whiteman’s champions took in the 20s, props him up at the expense of other innovators who could have used the attention — something that you noted in your talk last week at the EMP Pop Conference.

      As to your point about hipping musicians to stuff . . . I hear you. One point that David Ryshpan made in his post is that the jazz school faculty struggles with the post-hip-hop stuff in the jazz tradition, leaving kids like BBNG with too many unanswered questions — a good historian/ethnomusicologist/educator/what-have-you could serve a very important function by hipping students to the stuff that their teachers might not have been around to dig when they were coming up.

  3. Pingback: In response to some disrespectful hip-hop-jazzers and Now magazine | Ottawa Citizen

  4. judgeupstroke says:

    Help me out here, because I’m having difficulty following your arguments.

    Your contention that BBNG “embodies the racist underbelly that haunts today’s systems of music distribution and consumption” seems ill-supported. As far as I can tell, you’ve offered no proof to back up this slanderous comment. You have pointed out the fact that they are white, college-aged, Canadian, and playing jazz music, but last time I checked, these things do not equate to racism, even if your personal experience might lead you to think it does. Your assertion that a white person has no right to challenge any music that has non-white roots, however, comes across as though you have a prejudice of your own.

    You go on to attack the group for their arrogance in denouncing their own music education, but you – and Hun – seem to take this quote out of context. The quote from NOW is “You have to transcribe Charlie Parker and learn the Omnibook, and that’s kind of bullshit because then everyone plays what Parker plays,” but continues to say “It’s important to learn the language, but whether you use it is your own call.” This statement is not denouncing Humber or music education on the whole, but rather saying that if music is to evolve, it cannot be taken as canon, especially in jazz where rules and conventions are meant to be challenged.

    I agree that respect must be paid to the roots, but to limit yourself or a musician to any one interpretation of a musical genre is limiting development of the genre on the whole, and so if the conventions of jazz are never challenged, what kind of future does the genre have? That being said, if you don’t like the innovations being made, don’t listen. And if you feel you need to crusade for the genre, then do so in a constructive way, and perhaps offer better support for contentious arguments. Not everything is about race, least of which the success of musicians like BBNG, and it strikes me as absurd that they – or ANYBODY – should have to make any justification for the colour of their skin.

    But of course, this is coming from a white, maybe slightly-older-than-college-age Canadian, so maybe I’m the racist one, right? Or do I only become racist when my ska band gets some attention?

    • arodjazz says:

      Thanks for taking the time to offer some counterpoint to my argument. First off, let me say that disagreeing with me does not make you racist!

      I’ll go through one point at a time to try and respond:

      You’re right to point out that I didn’t delve deeply into the systemic race-related issues that I believe underlie this issue. With a 1,000-word blog post, there’s only so much one can do. To me, the racism lies in the fact that jazz — an artistic tradition refined and honed in resistance to white racism for nearly a century — is being totally crapped on by these three kids in their interview in order to position themselves as “innovators.” This sort of disparagement of African-American predecessors echoes the rhetoric used by Whiteman and his promoters in the 1920s. Both are rooted in American racism.

      Their statement “but whether you use it is your own call” would be supportable if the band demonstrated any evidence of being able to play in time, groove hard, or do anything musically deep with the tunes that they cover. Ryshpan makes that point well in his piece on the subject (here: ). Nothing that I have heard suggests that these kids have done their homework; everything suggests that they’re taking musical shortcuts left and right.

      I actually agree with you 100% about how problematic the canon is in jazz today. But there’s no way that a chaotic, poorly-executed series of Youtube clips is going to do anything to dent the firmly-entrenched ethos of the canon. If anything, these sorts of outbursts just give more fuel to the traditionalists who defend canons, because they are perfect examples of the low-quality cluelessness that happens when people don’t dig into the good stuff of the tradition.

      Along those lines, I would NEVER suggest that “one interpretation of a musical genre” is the way to go. In jazz, the tradition is about innovation and liberation — but it has to swing! Not in a spang spang-a-lang way necessarily, but come on — Armstrong, Mingus, Chet Baker, Stan Getz . . . those guys would be rolling their eyes at this stuff, no doubt in my mind. And the fact that people like Gilles Peterson and Odd Future are giving them shououts as if they are somehow brilliant jazz ambassadors, at the expense of the real heavy innovators making music now — well, that just pisses me off.

      I have made a point throughout my brief time as a blogger to be constructive, positive, and supportive of the music that I love. But sometimes people say stuff that I just cannot sit idly by and let slide. Perhaps the best thing, as David Adler hinted at in his comment, would be for jazz schools to do a better job of contextualizing the course of jazz since the 1990s in a paradigm other than the one offered by the Ken Burns series.

  5. gao says:

    Although I do not agree with your opinion, I will respect it. What I have trouble coming to terms with in your post is your claim of racism. Music is a means of expression. Of course, it is deeply rooted in social codes and cultural practices, but is also a way of working through these styles marked with different cultural positions and bringing them into a new cultural space. With BADBADNOTGOOD I do not believe it is a matter of being “racist” or disrespectful towards these jazz roots, but rather a way of negotiating between what is familiar and what is new. In a polycultural, postmodernist context, it is a means of engaging with different ways of being (this not only applies to race, but also to gender, sexuality, etc.) and finding new ways of understanding our relationship to each other in the world. What does it mean if three young white males love music rooted in African-American traditions? How does it speak to them? How are they to understand their relationship with this music, if they were not subjected to the same struggles in which this style of music emerged? We can know the history, we can possibly attempt to feel that history based on our own experiences, but we will never be able to live that history. Thus, they are left to experiment with their own relationship they have with this music. And if it has become this popular, this relationship must be speaking to others as well. For me, this is where interesting and new things begin to take shape. It is not racism, it is a way of thinking about social difference and experimenting with it in a different context than the one it was originally practised in. There is nothing discriminating about this. You ordering BADBADNOTGOOD to “leave jazz alone” is in fact discriminating and oppressive.

    That’s my opinion.

    • arodjazz says:

      I think that the comic strip at the end of the post makes my point better than I could in response to this. But I’d like to add that I’m not accusing BBNG of being racists — I’m merely pointing out that both their naivete and their exposure to popular culture are related to the institutionally racist society that we live in. In short, they do a flat-out terrible job of representing the innovation, vitality, and excellence that SO many jazz musicians today bring to every gig, and yet these are the faces on the cover of Now Magazine.

      Look, I can sympathize with the challenge of being a white jazz lover growing up in the 21st century, with so much of the music in my rear-view mirror. But that doesn’t give me or anyone else license to bash that tradition willy-nilly, and yet still rely on it for my PR campaign. Let me ask, if BBNG weren’t allowed to use the word “jazz” in any of their interviews or promotional material, what would they have to say?

      • gao says:

        Whether you are calling them racist or not, I would just like to point out that my post was a response to statements you made such as:

        “To me, the racism lies in the fact that jazz — an artistic tradition refined and honed in resistance to white racism for nearly a century — is being totally crapped on by these three kids in their interview in order to position themselves as “innovators.””


        “BBNG seem intent on making a bitch out of the tradition instead, dragging her back into the gutter along with their misogynistic hip-hop champions Odd Future.”

        With this, I would disagree. They are not “crapping on” or “making a bitch out of” an artistic tradition. As I said previously, they are negotiating with it in their own context. Music is fluid. It is a language. It is constantly being reworked. Quite frankly, if it remained chained to its history, it wouldn’t have space to evolve. For example when you said, “I would NEVER suggest that “one interpretation of a musical genre” is the way to go” I can see you agree with me in this stance, and it would be difficult not to.

        It seems then, that we have three different issues we are dealing with here:
        1. The statements BBNG have made in their NOW interview.
        2. The institutionally racist society in which BBNG must to operate in.
        3. The extent of BBNG’s talent and creativity.

        In response to the first, it is clear that this interview has been taken way out of context and blown up in a way that will make controversial. BBNG is not “bashing that tradition willy-nilly”. As it has already been stated, they make a point to say that learning the language is important. I think their main argument is summarized best when Tavares says: “The key to making good music is having an open mind.” It is important to learn the tradition, but it mustn’t stop there. Having an open mind to take it a step further, to push the limits of tradition, that is extremely important. I know from personal experience that what one studies can have a great impact on one’s creativity. If we get too caught up in the technicality and traditions, it is sometimes difficult to see beyond that. It is likened to this idea I learned once of “going native”. This is a concept taken from research studies where “an observer (usually a participant observer in an ethnographic situation) starts to associate more with the group s/he’s studying and loses a certain detachment that allows her/him to be a “critical” researcher”. This can very well occur in any situation in which one immerses themselves deeply in a subject. I think BBNG’s point is that there must be a balance. Learning the tradition, while at the same time keeping an open mind, is crucial to the growth of jazz music. I would also like to point out, while somewhat irrelevant, that BBNG has stated this interview was taken out of context of a long discussion and they have apologized for their comments towards Robert Glasper.

        2. This is something BBNG frankly has no control over. It is unfortunately going to inform, shape, influence, berate, propel, distort, and create a bubble around the way in which BBNG will be contextualized and understood. I think I’ve made my point about how I feel towards this already.

        3. This can be debated and discussed, and of course this is all part of the process of creating and listening to music. It is subjective. You are entitled to your opinions about this, as I am to mine. You seem to have views that differ from mine about what is “truly innovative”. But, the reality of the situation all comes down to a discussion of authenticity. What is authentic jazz? What can be classified as innovative? This is a conversation for another time because regardless of your views and how they differ from mine, it is not what I intend to argue in this post.

        I hope that I have laid out my opinion clearly and that I have shed some light from an opposing view of the situation. In the end, I believe BBNG has every right to continue experimenting with jazz and inspiring other musicians to experiment with it as well.

      • arodjazz says:

        Everyone makes choices about how to negotiate institutional racism, even BBNG. Ignorance is not an excuse for complicity, and if they really cared about the jazz tradition, BBNG and any other young aspiring artist would understand that it’s not about innovation in a vacuum, but a continual process of struggle, resistance and liberation in the face of precisely those factors.

        If BBNG want to keep wearing pig masks and noodling modal keyboard licks, that’s fine with me — it just doesn’t belong in the same category as those who are really tuned into the richness of this lineage.

      • gao says:

        BBNG is negotiating institutional racism. They ARE struggling with the reality that they are young. That they are white. That they will be judged. Everyone is judged. That has been my point all along. You have been persuaded to believe that they are ignorantly negotiating with institutional racism by one article. Or perhaps the fact that they are young has also informed this interpretation. Who are we to say where music BELONGS? Genre classification in itself is not straightforward and actually quite problematic.

      • arodjazz says:

        Jazz, to me, is not a genre. It is a tradition, a lineage, an essence, and something that deserves to be protected from violence such as “taking it to the mosh pit” as BBNG claim to do. It’s important to me to take a stand in defense of this lineage, not to say where music belongs.

        For more on my thoughts on the issue of jazz and genre, see this post:

  6. gao says:

    That post only coincides with my point that genre is problematic. To “protect” and “defend” even this lineage is problematic because it is necessarily limiting it and closing it off from new ways of experimentation. Furthermore, by protecting something, you are also claiming ownership of it, which I do not think can happen with jazz. Think of owning a pet. You wish to protect that pet from the outside world (getting hit by cars, stolen, starvation, etc.) and so you enclose it in your home, in a cage, or with a leash. You cannot protect jazz in this way. Especially in this postmodern society where the use of pastiche is at an all-time high. Throughout the media and culture, styles in history are constantly being referenced to in a way that doesn’t acknowledge the original. Is this right? That is up for debate. But the point is, I feel trying to protect or defend something at the expensive of inhibiting others from experimenting with it is even more dangerous than “violence such as taking it to the mosh pit”.

    • arodjazz says:

      I’m not inhibiting anyone from experimenting here — all I’m asking is that BBNG do their experimenting elsewhere. And I’m certainly not claiming ownership of anything! Both jazz and BBNG will go on fine without me. But as a student of the music and its history, I know that sometimes the music’s message gets distorted by unexamined racist undertones, and this strikes me as a pertinent example.

      Point taken, though, that getting mad about it doesn’t do much to help anyone. I think I’ve stated my case and I appreciate your commentary,

  7. gusology says:

    Reblogged this on gusology and commented:
    Dude. I hope these brats grow out of this shit.

  8. Why is it that 3 white kids can have such appeal to a young audience that most jazz people have had no success tapping into? Come on… the huge audience that is so clamorous for knowing Kim Kardashian’s every move, loves Nicki Minaj’s lyrics, etc. etc. likes BBNG better than other jazz musicians. Preposterous! This whole debate should be “below” the jazz community. I say good luck to them. Let’s move on.

    • dark bloom says:

      your comment is unfair on so many levels…why disparage the success of three white kids? it’s up to all individuals to make a path for their art and reach an audience. maybe the problem is the music that the other (real jazz musicians) are playing. perhaps it doesn’t appeal emotionally to younger audiences.

  9. Wally World says:

    What the hell are we doing here Mr. Professor arodjazz. Why don’t you take the time and ask the artists, BBNG, what they really think, feel and believe before you plaster cast mold public opinion around them without doing a proper sampling. Your just trying to stir the racist pot for your own admitted perverse intellectual musicology. If this is jazz, then I guess I have been listening to it for the wrong dramatic reasons for almost 40 years. I’m sure these kids have not hypothesized the intent of their music other than get people to head nod, dance, mosh whatever like they did when clubs had swing!

    WOW. Come to think of it, I HATE JAZZ for what it is becoming because I don’t really get it. I guess my mom was right. Stay out of smoky jazz bars and get a real job like IT or plumbing where I don’t have to read about a jazz critic or teacher’s complaint to know if I’m doing the right thing.

  10. WonderfulWonderfulVerySpecial says:

    Hey Alex

    I thought you might want to check this out….

    • arodjazz says:

      I did check this out. It’s the video Ted Warren refers to that was made in the Humber College classroom — note the musical staff whiteboards.

  11. Fel says:

    So. Does Ted Warren own this room? I thought their tuition paid for its use. I believe they used it to practice before they got trashed by one of their publicly paid mentors. We should investigate the funding model to see if the kids in this program are getting real sustainable careers out of this or are we fueling programs for more under or unemployment . Perhaps the wisdom is to forget about this issue and blindly go at without the proper business skills to be successful. I shake my head wondering.

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  13. Pingback: In Defense of BADBADNOTGOOD, Part II | Wax Ramble

  14. M. Figg says:

    If BBNG were merely another group that couldn’t “…play in time, groove hard, or do anything musically deep with the tunes that they cover,” and if so many people weren’t so desperate to find the new/young/hip act to save jazz, then BBNG wouldn’t be much of a bother. Yet put together something that sounds different, a young face sticking out a middle finger and the right PR, and you’ve got a story! Like Whiteman, it does cover up more musically dynamic, less trade-friendly artists.

    What’s most unfortunate about Whiteman (who hated the “King of Jazz” sobriquet) is that the hype surrounding him outstrips the unique music he made (something which you and Mr. Adler have addressed here). In the case of BBNG it’s less “unfortunate” since BBNG’s own comments seem to feed their own hype, plus according to Alex, BBNG’s music doesn’t seem to be that remarkable, or at the very least is not earning its innovative status compared to other groups. In that case we have an example of BBNG not putting up while refusing to shut up.

  15. Please Explain? says:

    I don’t get anything about this band: they play groove based music, and their time is bad (and hence, they do not grove). Its boring, single-chord vamps, with a fairly weak underlying rhythmic grid. This is yet another example of the critics listening with their eyes, rather than their ears. And to call their music innovative is patently ridiculous….is very light-weight music. They have hit on a “story” and an “attitude” to sell their music, and good for them (and they don’t mind looking foolish to do so either, even more power to them).

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    • INS says:

      Hi there – I apologize for misrepresenting your argument. Now that I have the chance, please allow me to address some of the points made in your article more accurately.
      In your article you say that “BBNG seem intent on making a bitch out of the [jazz] tradition … dragging her back into the gutter along with their misogynistic hip-hop champions Odd Future.” I have a few problems with this statement. First, when you call Odd Future misogynistic, are you implying that jazz music itself has no ties to misogyny? You might recall that Miles Davis was a well-known misogynist, and a musical genius, and yet you don’t seem to call him a misogynistic jazz champion in your description of him later in your article? The reason for this seems not to be that you would dismiss his misogyny as “ok,” understandably, but that you recognize that Davis is a much more complex character than one defined by his misogyny. Just because you may not respect the music of Odd Future as much you do Miles Davis does not mean that the musicians in the group are less complex human beings than the late great jazz giant. Here is a recently released song by one of the members of the group, Earl Sweatshirt, which may begin to show you what I mean ( Second, you say that BBNG is dragging jazz “back into the gutter.” Regardless of whether or not that is true, is that necessarily a bad thing? Historically it has often been the music that was created “from the gutter” that has been some of the most innovative, impressive, and exciting music. When you listen to Fats Waller’s “Dinah,” for example, do you recognize his genius and virtuosity as a pianist, vocalist, and performer, or do you dismiss his music because it existed in the “gutters” of the 1920s and 1930s? I would assume the former, considering your apparent respect for and love of jazz music. However, that is drastically different from what contemporaries of Fats, who existed outside of the “gutter,” said about his music and the music of other musicians like him. In fact, people criticized his style of music and the lifestyle it represented in a manner strikingly similar to the way in which you just criticized the music of BBNG and Odd Future. One of the reasons why jazz moved “out of the gutter” is because people caught on to its beauty and complexity. They were able to slowly overcome the social, economic, and racial barriers that confined the music to recognize its true genius. It is a shame that similar barriers exist around the Hip-Hop music of today, and that many people who recognize the struggle that jazz went through to become recognized on the level that it is now can’t use this knowledge to view Hip-Hop with an open mind.
      Also, in your article you mention your old group, The Shark Spaceship, and seem to compare your “white” take on “African American music” with that of BBNG. However, there is one extremely important point that this comparison leaves out, and that is the style, and relevance of the music itself, regardless of whatever race the original musician had been. It is convenient to think that if your group had existed on Youtube, perhaps it would have been lifted from obscurity as BBNG was (whose “fleeting fame” you attribute to, as quoted from Peter Hum, “a video camera and a few famous people in their corner”). However, I believe that The Shark Spaceship’s funk-jazz cover of Thriller would most likely not have been lifted from obscurity, even with youtube and a celebrity involved, because the people who would have listened to that style of music in 2005 were most likely people who listened to, well, obscure music. This is not to say that the music is bad quality, for that is not what I believe, I am only saying that the style was not “popular” in 2005. BBNG on the other hand received their lift from obscurity with the Odd Future Sessions videos, amongst many others, in which they covered music by a popular group in a new and interesting way. They built upon, in the words of Farah J. Griffin, a cultural style that many people, including the musicians themselves, are currently listening to.
      In other words, by stating that a 2005 funk-jazz cover of a song produced in 1982 is comparable to a 2011 hip-hop-jazz cover of a complication of contemporary songs solely because both works were originally written by African Americans, your argument ignores the style of music, the contemporary popularity of the music, and… pretty much everything about the music itself except for the race of the musicians. Here is a quote from your article that I think relates to this issue. “Sometimes, I see or hear something in my online jazz meanderings that hits me like a punch in the gut, pissing me off for no apparent reason. When that happens, the first thing that I have trained myself to ask is, “does this have something to do with race?” Almost always, the answer is “yes.”” Maybe one reason why you always respond “yes” is because you tend to ignore multiple sides to issues that provide many more complexities than just the issue of race. For instance, style popular culture.
      This idea I mentioned above about BBNG existing in a context of music that is currently popular brings me to my next point, which has to do with your criticism of BBNG’s “disparaging rhetoric towards jazz.” Here I am assuming that you are referring to their remarks about their jazz education, such as the one about them learning Parker solos from the Omnibook quoted in Peter Hum’s article. I think that in this instance, you are in fact misrepresenting BBNG’s argument about the jazz tradition. Let’s look at what the group said. Drummer Alex Sowinski expressed his discontent with the way in which all institutionalized musicians are made to study the same things, such as the Charlie Parker Omnibook. He reasonably followed this statement by saying, “It’s important to learn the language, but whether you use it is your own call.” Keyboardist Matt Tavares describes his experience in a jazz institution by saying that “[It’s] a different world. No one knows what Pitchfork Music is … People know Downbeat Magazine.” Combining these two quotes, we see that the group is expressing a frustration with the close-mindedness that not only exists in the jazz world, but also in your article and that of Peter Hum. The group here does not deny that the jazz world is complex and filled with rich diversity, rather they are saying that there are additional worlds that exist outside of jazz that are just as complex and rich that the jazz world seems to dismiss. There is nothing wrong with studying Charlie Parker in 2013, but maybe there is something wrong with studying Charlie Parker and ignoring J Dilla ( in 2013 (I would highly recommend watching this video in full to truly understand my point). Thus, when you say that Avishai Cohen’s mix is better than BBNG’s because his is “both creative and respectful to the lineages of musicians in the styles from which he is borrowing,” your comment betrays a lack of understanding of BBNG’s true nature and creativity. They respect the jazz music that has influenced their sound; what they do not respect is the lack of respect that other jazz musicians give to more contemporary art forms such as Hip-Hop. BBNG, on the other hand, are well versed in the rhetoric of Hip-Hop in a way that many jazz musicians would never bother to be, and their music is all the more rich, vibrant, creative and exciting because of it.

  17. Willy says:

    Bravo! a real listener of creative music of all kinds rather than than a paint by numbers music critic.

  18. CJ says:

    I know this article is kinda old, and I’m pretty positive that everyone in this thread has listened to more Jazz than I have. But I was perusing around the internet and I came across this. I understand that you think BBNG isn’t anything fantastic, but I don’t think they’re as bad as you make them sound. I actually think they’re doing a pretty good job of getting a lot of younger kids into Jazz. But I was actually looking around for new Music to listen to in the first place. I’ve recently been into e.s.t., and The Bad Plus. So any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  19. cr says:

    Does it really matter? If you don’t like it, don’t listen to them. If you like it, listen to them. Art is art, please stop trying to quantify and qualify it; it defeats the point…..

  20. Charlie M says:

    You keep trying to write BadBadNotGood off as a pretentious group of adolescents that accidentally stumbled into the spotlight. You’ve also made several grandiose claims along the lines of: “How dare them mock the Jazz gods,” and “This group of white boys, blatantly sharing their negative opinions on some black jazz musician’s music, colors them racists (pun intended)!”

    Well, let me suggest something that I believe to be true. BBNG have criticized playing Giant Steps, memorizing Charlie Parker solos, and other jazz artists, because this is what students are expected to learn before they hit the real world. The education system says: learn giant steps, study these sax solos that are over fifty years old, and THEN you know jazz. See….even after doing all of this, they won’t know how to play jazz. They’ll know how to play Coltrane, or Parker, or whoever, but they won’t know how to play jazz.

    Jazz is just as much or more about individual growth as it is tradition — finding your own voice is key. If you don’t find your own voice, you won’t cast a shadow. Nobody wants to hear a Coltrane knock off. If they want Coltrane, they’ll buy a record. Also, studying material over 50 years old and expecting it to be just as relevant to the jazz scene today, is a distant impossibility; that’s what BBNG are saying.

    Lastly, expressing distaste for a black jazz artist’s music doesn’t quite equate to being a racist; that’s like asking a woman if she is a witch during the Salem witch trials. If she denies being a witch, then she’s a witch, and the only way to tell if a witch is truly a witch, is to tie the one in question to a chair and throw it in the lake. If it sinks, then it’s a witch.

    Detesting something, is not an admission of guilt — so, climb down from your high horse, leading arms in the the racism witch hunt, and stop being so dogmatic that it eliminates any possibility of you seeing the truth. These are honest musicians playing the music they want to hear. If you don’t like it, tune out.

  21. Pingback: BADBADNOTGOOD | waxramble

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