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Burnt Cork Again

by Martin Williams, Downbeat Magazine

Music, they keep telling us, has “social meaning.” As if anyone doubted that it did. The question is to get at that “social meaning” and its “political implications.”

I am much impressed with the effort of William Kloman in a review which appeared last September in the Sunday New York Times of the Columbia LP called “Cheap Thrills.” The recording is by the group called Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring singer Janis Joplin.

Kloman writes, “It is not surprising that the underground press should have fallen in love with big Brother st first sight. The group, after all, is the embodiment of the hippy fantasy: middle-class white kids with long blond hair pretending to be black. The whole thing comes off as bad parody, a kind of plastic soul that lacks the humor and relative integrity of, say, the old “Amos ‘N’ Andy” shows.”

Of Miss Joplin, Kloman says she “has the equipment of a blues singer but follows the instincts of an untrained belter. Part of Janis’ thing at the moment is not to know what she is doing, on the theory that if she did, she would spoil the emotional experience of performing.”

We are told, he continues, that one night at a party, Miss Joplin just started to sing and “discovered herself.” Kloman comments:

“The story fulfills the hippy myth that there’s a knockout artist hidden in each of us if only we’d let it out and start singing or writing poems or whatever...the more incompetent the current standards of criticism in the particular field, the more likely the hidden talent can be commercially exploited.”

Who has written about rock? Well, lots of people of course, but among them, young enthusiasts. Or classicists whose standards seem to collapse under the impact of the Beatles or a Bob Dylan LP. Or jazz journalists shrewdly sizing up their future markets. But Kloman, who had a lot more to say than I can quote here, has written one of the few pieces of criticism on the subject I have yet read.

I have remarked in this space before about the embarrassing blackface that is rampant in current rock and on the fact that certain journalists, who are almost militantly Crow Jim about jazz (and there is always much to be said for that position) not only seem to condone such impostoring in rock, but even virtually embrace it.

For the moment, however, consider how free jazz is of such impostors. Consider Pee Wee Russell. Consider Bill Evans. Consider almost every white jazzman of importance since Bix Beiderbecke. Lee Konitz may not be a jazz alto saxophonist of the stature of Charlie Parker, but - let’s face it - he is Lee Konitz.

Note: Anyone connected with a college radio station and interested in jazz programming, please write to me care of this magazine.


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