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16 September 2007



It seems that the rep TBP has built from their records with Tchad Blake has done them a bit of disservice in the court of uninformed public opinion. They came to be known as "that jazz trio that plays Nirvana," and much was made of their bombast. (Although, you're right, why is Mehldau celebrated, and not harangued, for being "the guy that plays Radiohead, Nick Drake, and the Beatles"?) The focus always seems to be on how loud Dave King plays. I think some fuddy-duddy DownBeat critic said of their cover of "Iron Man": "Now I know how Liberace would play Sabbath." Once jazz musicians start to rock out or groove to something that's not ding-ding-a-ding, the critics and purists seem to think that the Great American Classical Music has somehow been forsaken.


"Now I know how Liberace would play Sabbath."

And they thought that was a bad thing?

Steve Smith

The focus always seems to be on how loud Dave King plays.

If more people came to TBP with open ears and fewer preconceptions, they might also notice how quiet Dave King plays.


I think Mehldau got some stick, early on. However, Björk and Radiohead have spent over a decade being the alt-pop people jazz musicians are "allowed" to like, so it's less of a problem. TBP's covers are riskier (Moran playing "Let Me Play The Blues For You" isn't exactly newsworthy).

I think godoggo mentioned this at some point, but Moran and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Mehldau are always obviously swinging or at least more easily relatable to the Jazz Tradition as everyone understands it. Perhaps if anyone had actually heard Ethan's and Reid's albums on FSNT, this would be less of an issue.

There's a long and excellent interview with Dave King published just recently on AAJ that covers much of the same ground (coincidence? I think not). It even speaks favourably of Liberace.

Andy H-D

For as much shit as TBP has gotten throughout, the amazing thing is that they keep pushing it despite it all. As utterly bold as playing "Teen Spirit" was at the time, to me it seems almost a little pedestrian compared to the new stuff. One of the things they mention is how there isn't a common language for songs like that, but every punk song is going to have easy changes. Hell, "Teen Spirit" even has a ii-V-I in it. I think a lot of combos can't pull off covering punk like that is because the original engine needs bloodlust to work, which a lot of conservatory jackoffs (myself included?) don't have.

On the various cover tracks on Prog, the tunes are a lot thornier and they don't cram them into a head-solos-head format. (I think "Teen Spirit"'s really the only one they did that to anyway.) As the gentleman above me said, Meldhau seems to make an effort (particularly with his soloing) to reconnect to the Great Jazz Continuum. "Tom Sawyer"'s rock awexome is punctuated not by swinging solos but by fucking huge drums and a Cecil Taylor-esque polyrhythmic explosion of splinters.

I think the taint of rock music has definitely become more acceptable since These Are The Vistas came out. For example I'll slash my throat if I hear someone call "Chubb Sub" or Radiohead's "National Anthem" again. But TBP stay ahead of that, and that's cool.

Jesus Christ I sound like a musicologist/slobbering fanboy.

And am I the only one who thought of their "My Funny Valentine" from the live Tokyo album?


Really great comments guys -- but I have to ask, where are the Bad Plus skeptics? I know you are out there, and I really honestly would like to hear from y'all on this. I mean, every time some indie rock blogger mentions The Hold Steady, the whole place erupts in virtual fisticuffs, but we in the jazz blogosphere are sooo polite -- even when it comes to talking about the most controversial jazz band of the past decade.

As you know, I sincerely love TBP -- not everything they do obviously, but my overall feelings towards both the band and the individual musicians are very positive. And clearly David, Steve, Mwanji and Andy feel much the same way. But I also happen to know for a fact that many other readers -- including many of you who are fans of the cutting-edge jazz and have no problem in principle with rock covers -- do not. And I really sincerely would like to know why not.

It's worth reminding ourselves that healthy disagreement is, in fact, heathy. It's a sign that our scene isn't so fucking fragile that we are afraid to criticize any aspect of it, lest the whole thing come crashing down.

I do not mean to discourage the pro-TBP commenters -- there's an awful lot of fodder for discussion in that post. And y'all have already done a bang-up job of pointing out some of the reasons why some in the anti-TBP camp feel as they do. I just don't want the more skeptical readers to feel like they can't throw their $0.02 in as well.



Hell, "Teen Spirit" even has a ii-V-I in it.

It does? Where?


Actually, I started off as a Bad Plus skeptic. My initial exposure to them was the Nirvana cover, and that my drummer friends loved the Bonham incarnate aspect of Dave King. I didn't really get what the big deal was - piano trio as power trio; Ben Folds Five had already done it.

It was really only after reading DTM, hearing Fly's cover of Reid's "Todos le Cosas Se Van" and digesting the records in full that I had more context and I could really understand where they're coming from. PROG is the first record where the full scope of their capability has come to the fore. As Dave King said in our interview, Tchad Blake makes big-sounding records, and they were interested in making those big-sounding records at the time. But I think in the eyes and ears of some those records can come off as one-trick ponies.

Andy H-D

I was wrong about that, actually. I was looking at a tab I found since I didn't have a guitar handy to pick up and plunk it out. (All guitarists are required to learn it, by law.)

If you really want split hairs it's I-IV-iii-vi. But they're power chords anyway and it really doesn't matter.


In my opinion, a lot of the Broadway and Tin Pan Alley tunes that became standards were appropriated by jazz musicians the same way TBP appropriates their covers: in a kind of lovingly humorous way. For example, I find Sonny Rollins's duet version of Surrey With the Fringe on Newk's Time pretty funny, as if Sonny knows the song is corny, but still loves something about it, and is making fun of himself, in a way, for loving it. He shows us something about the tune that maybe no one else really heard, or thought to listen for. He also turns it into an amazing piece of music. I think this is what TBP does with their tunes, covers or not; these guys all have a sense of humor. A lot of people can't really hear humor in instrumental music, and/or don't want to.


So, I should add, they may not enjoy TBP because they can't get into the joyfully goofy way they choose to play, even though they are (gasp) seriously skilled and inventive musicians. And people have a right not to like it. Maybe they react as they do (blaming TBP for being ironic and jokey with the cover tunes, etc.) because they feel there is something they aren't "in" on.


Hi, just found your site while looking for rock sax lines. You are asking for the "con" side of TBP, so here it is. I went to the myspace of The Bad Plus and listened to their interpretation of Iron Man. Personally, I prefer the Sabbath version. I applaud their unapologetic admission that they actually like songs like that (as opposed to the type of music they actually play), but it seems strange to beat it up so. I think if the people in question wish to cover that song, they might think about picking up a guitar (plugging it in!) and learning to play it. I know that record-store snobs such as DJA and others who frequent this site will object that "anyone can do that". This is just not so. Anyone can do that poorly. Just like "everyone" coming out of the nineties wanted to be a Green Day clone, only Blink-182 was able to purify and even more greatly simplify the themes to their pure essence, and out-green Green Day. Unlike mediocre garage-cover-bands, TBP are clearly accomplished musicians who choose deliberately to play music no one likes (excepting aforementioned record-store snobs), foregoing popularity. I will never understand this syndrome, and the somewhat related one where fans like a band until it becomes popular, at which point it must have "sold out." If it is so easy to create popular music, get to it forthwith, and when you are done, relax will all your millions and create whatever type of music you like. I realize that this wasn't exactly the "con" you were looking for, coming rather from the other side, but I unapologetically like popular music. p.s., Just so that you don't dismiss me as stupid, I will point out that the only thing Ironic about that song (from which you took your post title, for those keeping score at home) is that it has no examples of irony in it.


That last comment was ironic, right?

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