Sunday, November 05, 2006

bernstein as fiscal assessor

gotta love the hat

After a few months off, Will Layman has a new installment in his column, a Steve Bernstein interview. Thankfully, it goes beyond the usual album promo blather. Bernstein talks about jazz and sex ("a really stretched-out thing"), how greats from one period couldn't necessarily do what greats from another period did ("[The AEC] were good on their instruments, but they couldn’t play like Lester Young or play a Marty Paitch arrangement in a sax session."), his slightly weird jazz-world status ("I win jazz polls, but I’ve never been hired for a week at a jazz club in my life. I’ve barely ever been called to play a US jazz festival, though I’ve headlined every jazz major jazz festival in Europe.") and music as it relates to personality ("Steve Coleman is a genius, but he’s been dull forever" - obviously, I don't agree. Two words: Weaving Symbolics).

Some of you may react more strongly to the AEC comments, but here's a real rock-the-boat moment. Even though he's aiming at all-too-familiar targets, it's something I've never heard before:
One of the things that nobody wants to say is that the Marsalises bankrupted Columbia Jazz—the emperor has no clothes. Wynton’s budgets were huge. He was selling ten or twenty thousand records and he was getting a minimum $100,000 to make a record. In the end, when he left, they closed Columbia Jazz. I don’t believe in coincidences. Duke didn’t bankrupt it, and Woody Shaw didn’t bankrupt it, and Dave Brubeck didn’t bankrupt it, and Arthur Blythe didn’t bankrupt it.

(...)Now it’s like an even playing field—we all sell the same amount of records, there is no corporate music, so it’s like: how does the music stand up on its own aside from whether you had a budget?
Of course, Bernstein then goes on to call Marsalis "probably the greatest trumpet player ever." Legions of Internet "minor men" (to use Stanley Crouch's tactful term) calling you boring is one thing, a peer accusing you of bankrupting a major jazz institution is quite another, I think. Bernstein's math isn't really convincing: 20,000 units sold grosses more than $100,000, which doesn't mean the label is breaking even, but no major label is going bankrupt over that kind of money, surely. That said, releasing 15 albums in 1999 (according to David Hajdu's "Wynton's Blues" article) couldn't have been a smart business move.