What a maroon, as Bugs Bunny used to say (and a movie critic I know loves to quote online).
His name is Justin Moyer and he thrust himself into serious contention for America’s stupidest journalist last week. He is, according to the Washington Post, the deputy editor of the paper’s Morning Mix section which makes his truly moronic piece on jazz last week a bit of a black eye for the whole newspaper, especially painful when journalists the world over were admiringly remembering the paper’s role in Richard Nixon’s Watergate Follies.
But then such is, no doubt, the state of the current Washington Post, a very different animal than it was then.
It all began with an extremely misguided humor piece in the New Yorker purporting to be about jazz and appallingly (in the view of many) and foolishly dragging the noble name of Sonny Rollins into its “humorous” denunciations.
From there, the Post’s Moyer acknowledged the New Yorker piece but then proceeded with all apparent seriousness, to indict jazz for the grave crime of not interesting Justin Moyer.
Moyer’s lede (as we say, and spell it, in journalism):
“Jazz is boring.
Jazz is overrated.
Jazz is washed up.…
Jazz has run out of ideas and is still getting applause.”
If you can possibly ignore the monumental stupidity of what is being said, it’s a good lede journalistically speaking.
It’s concise and arresting. But then moronic judgments often are, which is part of what makes them attention-grabbing.
By the time Moyer has finished with his Bill of Particulars, he has charged America’s endemic musical art with:
1. Taking Great Songs and Ignoring the Lyrics That Make Them Best.
2. Being Dependent on Improvisation which “isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
It’s in this section of Moyer’s bilious drool that he pronounces the guitar playing of Wes Montgomery as “perfect for browsing at Barnes and Noble or piping into elevators.”
3. It is no longer evolving.
4. It is “mushy.” We learn here that to what Moyer laughingly calls his ears, “Charlie Parker and John Zorn do not seem to occupy the same sonic universe, let alone belong in the same record bin of iTunes menu.”
To the degree that there’s anything true at all in Moyer’s slobber, it would be an indication of the music’s magnificently healthy variety rather than mushiness. But anyone even mildly knowledgeable about jazz has heard all sorts of Zorn saxophone playing, which is not only in Charlie Parker’s sonic universe but glows with Parker’s DNA.
5. Jazz let itself be co-opted.
At this point, let me say that someone who actually knew what he was talking about could make a completely specious case for (3.)
He couldn’t sell it, for a microsecond, to anyone who has actually heard some of the more remarkable young jazz musicians who have feasted on other musical forms and cultures and found them all gloriously adaptable to 21st century jazz’s vast “menu.”
Every other contention by Moyer is so resplendent with ignorance that the Washington Post website, in reporting the piece, had to lead off by assuring its readers that it wasn’t satire.
Please understand: I have never been under the foolish delusion that everyone in the world needs to love jazz. De gustibus. All that. I have always understood rather well why it can be off-putting (as many jazz fans can attest, marriage will teach that, among other things).
It’s the hilariously assertive ignorance of Moyer, though, that could make anyone wonder: “Who is this moron?” Anyone who can consign all of Wes Montgomery (not just the admittedly commercial things) to elevator music is a fellow with doorknobs for ears.
Well, in his indictment of jazz, his self-proclamatory fanfare is “I studied jazz while an undergraduate of Wesleyan University and had the privilege of learning from … Anthony Braxton, Pherooan akLaff, and Jay Hoggard … but I just didn’t get their aesthetic.”
All due respect to Braxton and akLaff, but there are many in jazz who don’t “get their aesthetic.” To condemn all of jazz for their incitement to confusion in Moyer’s tender undergraduate ears, would be a bit like blaming Bruno Mars for not understanding what the devil Pierre Boulez is talking about.
That he felt the necessity to explain his need to “study” rather than “listen” is, in part, his own deficiency.
When you look Moyer up in Wikipedia, you discover that Moyer, when he is not committing journalistic malfeasance (one of his “Morning Mix” pieces misspells Allen Ginsberg’s last name online), he’s been a member of several D.C. punk rock outfits including one called E.D. Sedgwick, for which he used to perform in drag. Access E.D. Sedgwick on YouTube (how can you not love the Internet?) and you find two videos of interesting indie rock. Moyer is the lead singer. The rest of the band is female.
The point of indie rock, of course, is the, uhhhhh, punk stuff which is why, no doubt, Jack White never applied for a regular job at the Washington Post.
Moyer once said online “I always find it strange that every musician I met would spend so much time engrossed by visual media and then write a song about class struggle or Rwandan genocide. I’m more interested in making my art about Molly Ringwald or Martin Sheen than exploring these so-called weighty topics, which, for better or worse, are alien to me.”
And, no doubt, they are.