There is a long-standing battle between modern jazz fans and traditional jazz fans. It seems that the trad fans loathe modern jazz, and the modern fans equally loathe trad jazz; each side posturing endlessly over the inadequacy of the other’s music. And frankly I’m sick of it! I heard these arguments 20 years ago growing up in Australia, and I still hear it now in the US. And it seems that it’s not going away any time soon.
You know what I’m talking about, right? The Trad Fans say that modern jazz sounds like everyone’s playing a different song, and it’s reminiscent of a cat being strangled whilst somebody throws a drumkit down some stairs.
And the Modern Fans will tell you that traditional jazz is passé, every song sounds the same; and with everyone playing at the same time, it sounds like someone set a pet shop on fire.*
So who is right? It is about time we put this argument to rest, don’t you think? And who better than yours truly: the Professor, to settle this argument once and for all. And the verdict is in. The answer may not be what you expected, but here’s the answer to end the debate. And the answer is: Elvis.
Let’s face it, folks. It was all over for jazz as soon as those hips started a-shakin all over The Ed Sullivan Show. I mean, I don’t know if any of you jazz cats have heard of this Elvis guy…but it seems he was a pretty big deal.
So who really cares whether Baby Dodds’s early style swings harder than Max Roach’s bebop drumming?? Did either of those guys wear a bejeweled jumpsuit?…Exactly.
And those pelvic thrusts—dear lord! How can the hippest jazz licks compete with a good ol’ pelvic thrust? You sure can’t do pelvic thrusts while playing clarinet. Nothing sexy about it folks, take my word for it. Let’s be honest; clarinet itself ain’t exactly the most sexy instrument, so dry-humping it on stage isn’t going to do anyone’s career any favors.
And they even called him Elvis the Pelvis! How cool is that for a rhyming name? I looked up my name on a rhyming website, and the words that rhyme closest with Adrian are atrium or mammalian…neither of which are particularly sexy stage names. I don’t think Adrian the Mammalian—although biologically accurate—is going to make the ladies swoon anytime soon. (It sounds less like a sex symbol and more like a B-grade Looney Tunes character.)
But if I had moves like the King, I certainly wouldn’t be writing articles in this newspaper. I’d be on my way to Hawaii to shoot my latest bloody hit movie, that’s for sure.
Now, some of you nit-picky academics might argue that he appropriated black music, and that his success wouldn’t have happened without taking advantage of those whose music he took from, but I say to you: Don’t be Cruel! Then I’d say Viva Las Vegas! for no other reason that it sounds vaguely optimistic. And we need some optimism while all you nerds are arguing with each other about whether Lester Young was hipper than John Coltrane.
And what a legacy The King left behind! There are people making a full time career just impersonating this guy! All you have to do is slap on a white jump suit and some oversized sunglasses, and boom: instant career! And when I have my drunken shotgun Vegas wedding, which impersonator do you think I want in front of me, reminding me of my future wife’s name so I can complete my vows? Not a Glenn Miller impersonator, that’s for sure. (If you walked into a room dressed like Glenn Miller, people would stop and ask you accounting advice.)
So there you go, all you jazz academics. I hope we’ve finally put this argument to rest. Who needs the King of Swing, when you got The King?!! From the curl of his lip to the thrust of his hip, he’s got you all beat. I rest my case. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Professor has left the building.
*props to Ed Polcer for that one.
Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.