Open Letter to Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic, July 2013

Philly_Joe2

(This letter is over a year old, but I’d like to give Scott an opportunity to respond openly.)

“But in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic.”

~Scott Yanow, All Music http://www.allmusic.com/artist/philly-joe-jones-mn0000845443

In realityEverything?

Scott, we’ve known each other a long time, so I’m not going to make this antagonistic, if I can help it.

No one can reasonably refute the fact that during the five years that Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones spent in and out of the recording studio from January 30, 1953 to July 22, 1958 and Philly’s 3-year tenure in Miles’ band (1955-58), that Philly Joe Jones developed into one of the greatest drummers the world has ever known – and certainly in the top 10 of the greatest Jazz drummers of all time.

To claim “in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic” is unequivocally unrealistic. First of all, his playing didn’t all of a sudden get worse. Also, he didn’t go from playing with Miles Davis to slumming in cocktail bars, strip joints and playing with subpar local yokels. Philly Joe went on to work with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell – and those are just the trumpet players – on gigs and in the studio. Keep in mind, these were mostly “blowing dates”, so you got an entirely different set of artistic results from those types of situations than you would from a band that had been working night after night for some years.

Granted, Philly Joe Jones made up 1/5 of one of two of the greatest bands Miles Davis ever had and unimpeachably one of the greatest bands ever to grace a stage. It’s almost impossible for there to have been a better band than the band with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and John Coltrane; as great as, yes, but not better. It is no secret that Miles knew how to work a group, which would make it pointless to even try and compare the works of these sidemen post-Miles; his concept was so clear, specific, directed and prolific. But, again – their offerings were far from not being high points.

Here’s a short list of some amazing work by Philly Joe after his departure from Miles’ band:

Bill Evans “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” – December 15, 1958
Jackie McLean “Jackie’s Bag” – January 18, 1959
Chet Baker “Chet” January 19, 1959 (and the trio sessions from that same day featuring Bill Evans)   “Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland” April 25, 1960                                                                         Wynton Kelly “Kelly at Midnight” April 27, 1960 (really, Scott?!?)                                                Freddie Hubbard “Goin’ Up” November 6, 1960                                                                            Kenny Dorham “Whistle Stop” January 15, 1961                                                                              Tina Brooks “The Waiting Game” March 2, 1961

Even if you wanted to wax technical on the “after Miles Davis” time frame and include the happen-stance (and last) studio encounter with the two giants on March 21, 1961, you’d still have to include things like:

Hank Mobley “Workout” March 26, 1961 (3 weeks after last studio encounter with Miles)
Freddie Hubbard “Hub Cap” April 9, 1961
Donald Byrd “The Cat Walk” May 2, 1961                                                                                   Phineas Newborn Jr. “A World of Piano!” October 16, 1961

The issue most grand that plagues the average critic is that you’ve written not from an objective point of view, but from an authoritative, finite and rather dismissive one; this isn’t the first time either. In fact, when I read a cat’s overview, I can always tell when it’s your writing because of unflattering quips like: “not essential” or “no surprises here.” I’m aghast at how you can sum up so much great work in a few short dismissive sentence fragments.

Unlike the majority, I don’t consider critics to be “complete know-nothings”; rather, I allege that the use of apparent knowledge is being used in precarious ways that do not bode well for anybody. We all lose, Scott.

Most concerned, Eric Reed