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Why Bashing Jazz is Profitable

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Everyone wants in on the fun. Just over a week ago, the New Yorker created a fuss by fabricating quotes that trashed jazz and falsely attributed them to Sonny Rollins. Days later, a disclaimer was added to let unsuspecting online readers know it was all in jest. Over the weekend, it was the Washington Post's turn. In an online column entitled “All That Jazz Isn’t All That Great,“ Justin Moyer, deputy editor of the paper's online “Morning Mix," wrote that jazz stinks because it's too long and messes up perfectly good songs. “Unlike a poorly received New Yorker piece purportedly written by jazz great Sonny Rollins, this is not satire," Moyer warned at the column's start. Guess what? Turns out it was satire after all.

As comments piled up below Moyer's column expressing derision and outrage, the deputy editor tried to clear the air by adding a comment of his own: “This article was not intended as a serious analysis. To better understand the piece as parody, you should read an article I wrote back in 2012..." First readers were told the column should be taken seriously. Then readers were told it's all a joke—which Moyer says they should have realized since his take on humor first appeared in a column he wrote years ago “for another D.C. paper."

Whatever you think of Moyer's column, online media will likely continue having fun at jazz's expense for some time to come. Gaslighting jazz and jazz fans appears to be great sport and seems to work wonders for online traffic—the web's equivalent of ratings. Nothing boosts traffic like outrage, even if it has to be ginned up. Most jazz fans are sensitive, protective and articulate. You just have to shine them on to get your desired results. Fans grow irate, express themselves online and likely link to the offending column, which drives up traffic.

Duping audiences into thinking that fake content is real isn't new. The grandaddy of the gotcha gimmick dates back to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, when the drama's faux news reports convinced listeners that the planet was being invaded by Martians. What is new here, however, is that jazz seems to have become online media's new rodeo clown. Shoving Sonny Rollins' reputation down a flight of stairs for laughs triggered online outrage and links to the New Yorker's send-up. I can't even imagine what the page-views were. Other media sites wateched the dust-up and up-tick with envy. After all, where there's smoke, there's traffic.

Moyer was first to jump in, posting about why jazz bores him to tears. He argued that Duke Ellington's version of Take the A Train was short and sweet, so why did Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy bother with an “overlong" version of the same song years later? He also wrote that many songs that jazz artists choose for improvisation were better in their original form, with the lyrics intact. And, he mocked guitarist Wes Montgomery's [above] playing as “serviceable, forgettable and uncontroversial"—equating it to elevator music. Just kidding, Moyer said, later.


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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