It seems churlish to criticize the omissions in a piece so thoughtfully put together as Time Out New York’s list of New York’s 25 Jazz Icons, which covers a cohort of gifted musicians from an admirably inclusive menu of jazz food groups. But in the spirit of their generous offer (“We focused on continued creative vitality (where these artists are at today, not just their past glories) as well as sustained live presence, influence, conceptual ambition, stylistic range and other intangibles. We admit to our biases, but feel that these 25 picks make a compelling case for why New York jazz is in the midst of a new golden age. We gladly welcome your comments, questions, gripes and rebuttals.”), I’ll say my piece.
In my view — and it’s only my view — a few too many of the choices privilege an aesthetic of recondite hipsterism. Tom Harrell, in an efflorescent period, probably didn’t even make the short list. Where are Jim Hall and Kenny Barron, both truly iconic and creative. Or Ron Carter? Jeff Watts and Roy Hargrove and Chris Potter are deeply influential. So are Peter Bernstein and Russell Malone. George Lewis has transformed jazz education through his tenured sinecure at Columbia, not to mention his extraordinary musicianship. Kurt Elling lives in New York. So does Brad Mehldau. So does Robert Glasper, as conceptually ambitious and influential as any of the younger musicians mentioned. You could say the same for Miguel Zenon. Then there’s David Binney. Geri Allen and Christian McBride live in the same part of New Jersey as Bill Charlap (who belongs on the list). Joe Lovano and Steve Coleman, both true jazz icons, live far enough out of town that I can understand why they aren’t here (though Coleman, when not on the road, is a weekly presence at the Jazz Gallery). But Brian Lynch is a pioneer in synthesizing African-American and Afro-Caribbean vocabularies and an educator of increasing influence. Who’s more conceptually ambitious than Dafnis Prieto? Or Eddie Palmieri, for that matter? Or Uri Caine? (Ok, Uri, an Upper West Sider, doesn’t play NYC that often.)
Don’t get me wrong. I admire all the musicians mentioned. But I can think of 5 or 6 (and I won’t name names) who can in no way, shape, or form be described as “jazz icons.” Musicians who will make a mark? Sure. Is their musical production interesting and out of the box and virtuosic? Sure. But “jazz icons”? Really? How about Ellery Eskelin? Or Roy Nathanson? Where’s Marc Ribot? How about Vernon Reid? Jen Shyu? Butch Morris?
By the way, Wynton Marsalis, who gets a seemingly begrudging #3, is anything but a figurehead. I challenge anyone to name a more conceptually ambitious piece than “Swing Symphony,” not to mention “Congo Square” from a few years ago.
Again, it’s just a list. But when such lists appear in the establishment media, they become the default playing field for “civilian” evaluators. And can anyone under 50 who likes to swing or groove meet Hank and Steve’s criteria for “conceptual ambition” and “stylistic range”? Is it possible to be equally creative within an idiom?
I’m starting to get worked up, so it’s time to stop…