Matt Rubin, co-proprietor of the newish blog Twenty Dollars, breaks out the lead pipes and blowtorches with a post called Why I Hate Big Band Music. I am, ironically, too busy to respond at the moment because I'm writing liner notes1 for an upcoming bigband record by a certain notoriously prolific trumpeter and composer. But Matt's piece is certainly worth reading. I have definite qualms about Matt's diagnosis -- if the problem with bigband music is the fetishization of "precision" above all else, then citing Maria Schneider's fearsomely precise group as the antithesis of that does not really ring true. (Gil's band in the 1980's -- okay. Maria's band in the 2000's -- fuggedaboudit.) And you will have to take my word for it that any rumors of rampant selflessness and/or ego-abnegation amongst bigband musicians are not true. Still, I encourage y'all to take a bit of time out from celebrating America's greatness by blowing shit up, and go read Matt's post.
Speaking of Maria Schneider's band, I don't think I've ever seen a more naked attempt to smack down a successful female artist and put her in her place (at least, not in living memory) than this review on the Montreal Gazette's blog. It's got everything, really -- including comparing her looks (unfavorably) to the Last Tango in Paris actress, a complaint that it was "creepy" seeing so many "steely, blond" middle-aged women in the audience, and the literally incredible allegation that Maria's body language was "stiff." Dude -- my body language is stiff. I am (and this is putting it extremely charitably) a utilitarian conductor. When I get in front of a band, my goal is to beat clear, unambiguous time that doesn't rush or drag, and to give cues that actually do more good than harm. I am sorry to say that even this level of basic adequacy is unusual enough that I get compliments about my conducting from players. Maria's skill and expressivity as a conductor is clearly so far beyond this -- so far beyond anyone else in jazz -- that it's not even worth having a conversation about it, except to note that if this is stiff, then the rest of us make Peter Boyle look like Fred Astaire.
1. For our younger readers: "liner notes" were written descriptions of, or essays about, the music contained on a particular albuma, which were included as part of the packaging for said album.
a. "Albums" were compilations of songs or other musical works that were collected on physical media (such as vinyl, cassettes, or compact discs), intended to be listened to without interruption in a specific predetermined sequence. At one point, people were willing to pay up to the equivalent of three (sometimes even four) Starbucks beverages in exchange for them.