A self-inflicted classical wound

A self-inflicted classical wound


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2017

Jazz master Kenny Barron talks about how his art was disparaged and downgraded by the classical establishment for much of his life.

A shocking indictment, horribly true.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The classical music community should not need to apologize for a mediocre jazz musician’s inferiority complex. There were also jazz musicians who were great musicians.

    • Sir Kitt says:

      Nah, mate. He’s pretty good. Bit better than mediocre. But you’re probably excellent, too.

    • Clarrieu says:

      Wow. Can’t wait to see you post your own recordings, Pianofortissimo. Because if Kenny is a “mediocre jazzman”, you must be some musician…

    • Steve P says:

      Kenny Barron is a master jazz pianist. Calling him mediocre is simply dumb.

      But in the jazz world, it is the musicians themselves that coined the term “legit” to distinguish between the more composed western art music and more improvisational jazz. Never considered it to be more than a quasi-sarcastic comment on the differences between two musical skill sets.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I’m not a professional musician, guys, so I’m not selling any recordings. I understand that some can’t bear the idea that maybe all the jazz music of all times is not worth a Beethoven sonata (I don’t mean that I think so). Deep in their minds they feel that that can be the case, that maybe they really drowned in a kind of “jazz swamp,” and maybe that’s the source of their frustration, of the inferiority complex behind statements like that. Jazz musicians who are proud of what they do don’t feel the urgency to place a sign of equality between theirs and classical music, or to be sarcastic about classical music or the classical music public.

      • John says:

        Mate, if you’re not a professional musician, how in hell can you presume to speak for them?

      • Robin Landseadel says:

        “I understand that some can’t bear the idea that maybe all the jazz music of all times is not worth a Beethoven sonata (I don’t mean that I think so).”

        Even worse, there are those who think that the whole of the western classical tradition is nothing compared a single squeak from Yardbird (don’t think that I don’t think so.)(And think twice before you think).

      • Gilbert Hetherwick says:

        You are the kind of classical music fan… Nonmusician… always snooty and condescending… that makes the genre and everything surrounding it so laughably elitist today. And also the reason it is dying. It’s music… It’s all simply music. Either enjoy it or don’t… but it doesn’t help anybody to slam a musician… Just walk away… Quietly… Please GH

  • Halldor says:

    The first sentence would be much enhanced by the insertion of the word “American” before “classical establishment”.

  • Respect says:

    Shame he can’t afford to have the piano tuned.

  • Joplin Nut says:

    This is nonsense. I heard nothing “shocking” or even new. Has there been some Snobbery? Of course, and it runs both ways. American schools have jazz bands galore; more than orchestras. Jazz influenced classical music is well known , loved and popular: concerts abound with the works of Gershwin. Classical listeners are quite familiar with Grofe, Still, Gould, Willson, Ellington. For me, if there’s a lack of respect it’s coming from jazzers who seem to think their arrangements of the Nutcracker and Messiah should be accepted as legit. One of the most damning criticisms I’ve read about jazz was written by Bruno Walter. It was Paul White man, yes, an American, who gave those experiments in jazz concerts.

    • Robin Landseadel says:

      “For me, if there’s a lack of respect it’s coming from jazzers who seem to think their arrangements of the Nutcracker and Messiah should be accepted as legit.”

      Billy Strayhorn’s arrangements of selection’s from the Nutcracker are sufficiently legitimate as far as I’m concerned. I prefer “Sugar Rum Cherry” to the original.


  • Respect says:

    More clickbait. There’s no bitterness in the interview.

  • Adrienne says:

    So some people in genre A might not be totally sold on the virtues of genre B.

    So what?

    Manufactured outrage, again.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The two genres have fundamental differences and should not be compared with the same norms, it would rob the specific qualities of either..

  • Eric Bolling says:

    There is no “shocking indictment” here…. for crying out loud… What are you talking about Norman?

    Where there narrow-minded musicians who disparaged Jazz? Yes. Not all music speaks to all people. And yet, the efforts and publicity brought upon jazz by the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Andre Previn, George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, Milton Babbitt,. just to name a few, completely outshine the narrow minds.

    What a silly headline. Lets see the outrage for the serial composers whose music is still seen by many as non-“legit”. Oh…wait..there won’t be any outrage since those composers are white.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    For anyone interested in hearing this “mediocre” jazz pianist, here is a link to him playing with the inimitable Charlie Haden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gbhHA_nrEY

    My, I wish I could be as mediocre as Kenny Barron……………..

  • Paul Randall says:

    Stan Getz had a wonderfully supportive and creative relationship with Barron; Getz rated him very highly indeed. What more need one say except to encourage those who do not know their ‘closing of the day’ recordings to listen: https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/stan-getzkenny-barron-people-time-the-complete-recordings/

  • George says:

    Mr. Bordylap, can you enunciate what these differences are?

  • George says:


    • John Borstlap says:

      Ah right, I was looking over my shoulder.

      Classical has a wider psychological / expressive scope, and often aims at the best of what we could call ‘high art’, touching ‘the sublime’ (the meaning of ‘sublime’ has disappeared on 8 October 1923, but the notion points to something spiritual). Jazz wants first of all to be entertainment, creating a welcome atmosphere, or / and connecting listeners again with their instinctive, sensuous self which has been squeezed flat during the day in the office or trying to stop the quarrels of the children.

      But the more defining difference is the meaning of the score. With classical, the score is the best possible ‘blueprint’ of the work with as clear as possible instructions, according to all the differentiations of the music. Even then, there is a wide margin of freedom in interpretation, but the performer is supposed to ‘enter the mind of the composer’ through an act of the imagination, as to be able to render the music’s meaning as close as possible to what the composer may have imagined. Of course this process is very subjective but there are objective limitations and norms. With jazz, any notation is a skeleton as a substructure for the performer to improvise upon, and the more musical imagination the performer has, the more he/she will deviate from the skeleton but always return to it. The simplicity of the skeleton (necessary to offer improvisational freedom) is also a restriction: greater structures or narratives are not possible with such skeletons. And then, jazz has a number of aesthetic characteristics in terms of rhythm and melody and harmony that you don’t find elsewhere.

  • Sue says:

    Personally, I have a great admiration for jazz musicians; they very often display the highest levels of musicianship. One need not necessarily be fond of the music to understand the artistry and skill involved in its performance.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Jazz is inherently inferior to art music. It is a style, and haven for the kind of people who are fascinated by harmonic progressions and little more. It is entertainment. In the hands of a genius like Duke Ellington (and his associates such as Billy Strayhorn), it can reach a very high level, but it is still entertainment. If Barron’s jackass of a son is any measure, then Barron is full of attitude and egotism, and overcompensation for mediocrity. If he was legitimate, he wouldn’t care for two seconds what the classical establishment thinks of him. I am sick of people trying to elevate Jazz beyond its natural level, perhaps above most pop music, but well below art music.
    What is it jazz musicians do? Play endless variations, or doodles on or off themes or fragments thereof. Playing loud and fast does not make them great. Why is not art? One reason is, they have no sense of dynamics or balance, and everything is generally amplified. On that point alone, it is degenerate. And when they play a standardized song, they copy so-and-so’s version literally, with far less freedom or nuance than any classical musician. They have no real creativity, it is fake. And the free-er it is, the more it is simply noise.

    • Steve P says:

      Yep, all jazz is loud and fast with noodling variations.
      All art music is soft and slow with endless repetition of a few notes.
      And amplification is degenerate, much like porn or miscegenation.
      Seems like we agree on just about everything!

    • John Borstlap says:

      I prefer Nono to jazz because I went to a catholic school where jazz was prohibited. If caught while listening to jazz (the nuns sometimes inspected the local bars at saturday night), we were punished by having to listen to fifties modernism after school time.


  • Luigi Nonono says:

    I didn’t mean to call his son a jackass, no, he is merely a public nuisance, and a belligerent jerk.

    • Clarrieu says:

      Yes, Nononald J. Thanks you for your deep analysis. And look: don’t forget to fire another minister before dinner, there’s still time.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    They played jazz in brothels? I’m going to say that was rare. Maybe that happened once.

    When did a brothel have to hire musicians to lure men in?

    What brothel had hookers so unappealing that someone thought, “Maybe if we added a man on a piano…?”

    Maybe a speakeasy nightclub in the 1920s that had some nookie rooms on the side had jazz going on, but an brothel?

    • Cubs Fan says:

      I assure you there were piano players in brothels. My great-grandfather was one and proud of it from everything I’ve heard. He studied piano and violin in Klagenfurt and left for the US in 1890, settling in the midwest in a small town that was a major railroad and transportation hub. He wanted to be a piano teacher, but found he could make a lot more money playing in saloons and then onto a brothel. There are family pictures of him surrounded by several of the other, er, employees. He was by all accounts, a good player, loved to play Scott Joplin, Chopin, and Mozart! Later he found steady employment in a movie palace, playing music to silent films until he died. He passed his love of music onto his children and grand-children and no doubt that’s where I got it from.

    • Barry Michael Okun says:

      Jazz was INVENTED in brothels in the Storyville section of New Orleans (the city’s red-light district before the City Fathers closed it down and eliminated it). Louis Armstrong (who obviously wasn’t in the first generation of jazz players) played in New Orleans brothels early in his career.

      But it’s not just jazz. Brahms pretty much got his start as a professional musician playing in brothels in Hamburg. Truly.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That about Brahms is true. And it was the reason that in his own music, he strove at purity, nobility and the sublime, to compensate for that miserable memory and for his later custom of visiting brothels in Vienna as a client instead of as an entertainer.