The Bad Plus (yes, all three of them, this time) have written a post that has surely been brewing since they started blogging, in which they defend their choice of cover tunes against widespread accusations of... [sotto voce] irony:
With the rare exception, TBP doesn't choose to improvise on music written from 1920 to 1965. Instead, we find it really interesting to search for ways to make rock, pop and electronica songs vehicles for contemporary improvisation. One reason that this material is not "standard" is that you can't call "Iron Man" at a jam session and pull off a mediocre interpretation of it the way you can with "All the Things You Are." There simply isn't a common language for it.
But just because the non-original songs we play can't be called at a jam session isn't the reason 10 English critics think it's a joke. Why do they think it is a joke? There are two possible reasons:
A) The original music itself is a joke: in other words, Nirvana, Blondie, Aphex Twin, ABBA, Neil Young, The Police, David Bowie, Burt Bacharach, Tears for Fears, Black Sabbath, Pixies, Vangelis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Radiohead, Bjork, The Bee Gees, and Interpol is just inferior and not at the level of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. Implied is the phrase "rock is not worthy of the jazz tradition."
B) The way we play the covers appears like parody or at least highly ironic.
Both are wrong.
Do The Math doesn't have comments, but I do, and I'm rather curious what people think of this post. I would encourage everyone to check it out in its entirety, then return here to share your thoughts.
I actually have quite a lot to say about this, and when I have more time, I will probably follow up with some commentary, but for the moment I'm more interested in your take.
But perhaps it's not tipping my hand too much to mention that I, too, have previously blogged about the frequently dodgy lyrics that characterize much of the so-called Great American Songbook.
I also think it's worth considering why The Bad Plus's covers have become such a lightning rod for critical scorn, which is something I alluded to in my review of their double-bill with Jason Moran last year. It's not at all uncommon anymore for jazz musicians to play covers of post-Great American Songbook tunes, but for some reason, The Bad Plus (unlike, say, Jason Moran or Brad Mehldau) seem to attract particular scorn for this.