Saturday, April 15, 2006


JazzWord follows up on recent debate by making a distinction:

"But it's one thing to be underrated, but another to be underrated and unknown."

Indeed. This sentence made me think of the 3 U's of this post's title. The difficulty in applying them to the jazz world is that of context: it's such a minority interest that very few jazz musicians register on any radar beyond specialised circles. Still, there are some egregious cases.

In the unknown category: Frank Hewitt, dead at 66 before his first record was released and could show what a great, intense and maverick player he was; Herbie Nichols, dead almost literally from neglect, stuck in dixieland bands despite his advanced bop ideas. Both were known by very few in their time. Ironically, it's almost ontologically impossible to know how widespread this phenomenon is.

Underrated: Armen and JazzPortraits claim that Parker and Gillespie are vastly underrated and even looked down upon among certain circles. Not having frequented jazz schools, I don't know if this is true, but as Darcy points out in the comments to my first post on this topic, great players, avant or not, will have accumulated extensive historical knowledge. That certainly entails going back to Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Armstrong and others of later avant-gardes (from the AEC and Weather Report to Ellery Eskelin and Ben Allison, according to your sensibilities), especially if you want to hear people on the cutting edge, before everything had been theorised.

JazzWord puts Booker Ervin in both the underrated and unkown categories, but I find the two to be contradictory. So I have a third category.

Undervalued, a local example: guitarist Pierre Van Dormael. I was shocked when he told me that "Vivaces," an incredible masterpiece, sold 250 copies. Even in Belgium, that's nothing. Granted, Pierre isn't the best self-marketer, but neither is he unknown. There might be a better term than undervalued, because it is rather synonymous with underrated...).