I’m aghast at The New Yorker’s rip-off of Sonny Rollins’ good name and great heart to slag jazz in the guise of “humor.” A Daily Shouts piece, bylined “Django Gold” (surely a pseudonym) purports to be “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words” and controverts the very essence of the art form this grand hero has embodied for more than half a century — without raising a chuckle (at least from me). See for yourself — then write the editor a letter saying “This ain’t funny.” Not that jazz is sacrosanct, but this ain’t funny.
Ok, call me sensitive. I was read “The Talk of the Town” as an infant by my parents trying to put me to sleep. I saved my copy of The New Yorker issue containing S.J. Perelman’s last story, as well as Salinger’s “Hapworth 16, 1924” and In Cold Blood. I’ve always wanted to write something that The New Yorker would publish. As a reader and later budding jazz journalist, I admired Whitney Balliett’s interviews and sopped up the front-of-the-book squibs on who was playing where. The magazine’s neglect of jazz since Balliett retired in 1998 has been regrettable, but all too consistent with mainstream media’s treatment of America’s world-renown cultural signifier.
I have often been amused by The New Yorker’s satires and cartoons. But appropriating and subverting the persona and image (photo by David Redfern) of the NEA Jazz Master/National Medal of the Arts honoree in order to scoff at what he and hordes of other performers do (mostly for self-satisfaction: It’s not like even the best-selling jazz musicians make the big bucks flowing to visual arts stars, major film directors and actors, globte-trotting orchestra conductors, etc.) is nothing to laugh at. The “joke” is based on everyone who stumbles on this realizing it’s the opposite of Rollins’ life and purpose, but yet turns on the seed of punkish resentment sophisticates presumably harbor against the music.
“The saxophone sounds horrible . . . Jazz may be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with . . .I hate music. I wasted my life.” Oh, yeah, Django, those are real corkers!
And what’s really wrong about this is that due to the mechanics of search engine optimization, henceforth “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words” will likely score high in Google searches for Sonny, maybe for jazz, so that unsuspecting readers will be led to think (at least for a moment) that this wonderful, selfless 84-year-old human being actually has come to the conclusion that everything he’s poured his mind, soul, energy into — for decades in the face of society’s bigoted and snooty dismissal, commercial disregard and evidently continuing “intellectual” non-comprehension — has been for nought.
Shame on The New Yorker. What would Balliett, Robert Gottlieb (TNY editor 1987 – 82, editor of Reading Jazz), or such immortal TNY humorists as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, S.J. Perelman 0r Donald Barthelme, author of a genuinely silly New Yorker-published spoof, “The King of Jazz” say? For shame, for shame. Not that jazz is sacrosanct, but “funny” must be funny.