- ASC presents Take 6, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Dec. 15
- Leeth named UAB School of Medicine assistant dean for strategic planning
- Coping with holiday grief
- New water plan saves big money
- Campus police offer holiday safety tips
- Alys Stephen Center Screens Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
- Hospital feeds underprivileged new moms
- UAB’s Alys Stephens Center presents Yo-Yo Ma Dec. 6
- Southern Miss tops Blazers, 62-27, in season ending game
- Henry Panion selected for 2014 Alabama African-American History Calendar
- Enjoy Christmas at the Alys Dec. 2, “The Season’s First Jingle”
- Engineering’s Ning wins ASTM International award
- Collat School of Business unveils sign at celebration
- Heudebert elected master by American College of Physicians
- Anti-aging strategies can improve more than looks
Viewpoint: The Politics of Judging Creativity
There shouldn’t be politics in art.
While we could argue that music taste lies solely with the listener, it shouldn’t be based upon whether you get a record deal or a scholarship, or even win a consolation prize of some sort. No one likes to get into arguments with their friends about which artist is the best artist of all time, which is essentially a larger version of what the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition seems to be, anyway.
But every year, around late September and early October, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz holds a competition for jazz musicians under the age of thirty that hold a promising future in music. The instrument of competition changes every year, but the rules are pretty standard. Enter the semi-finals, play some tunes, become one of three finalists, win again, get money, get signed to a label, be happy.
But how do you “win” a music competition?
It’s not fair for jazz to be held at the pretense of being an art form based on creativity and taking “giant steps” in experimenting with ideas and notes, but to judge musicians based on what five or six judges believe to be what is “right” for music these days. Don’t get me wrong, the judges are pretty high-brow successful jazz musicians. The problem is that these judges tend to be older and have their own depiction of what jazz music should sound like. They compare today’s young musicians to what they might have sounded like when they were the finalist’s age, which leaves little room for distinction of creativity.
The winner of this year’s saxophone competition was a Chilean female saxophonist named Melissa Aldana. I personally love her warm, yet professional sound, but some musicians and listeners alike believe that she won based upon her gender, and not her talent. This idea is not completely implausible, being that it is relatively normal for female musicians to hear “you’re pretty good for a girl” or “you play like one of the guys.”
Did Aldana win because she played like “one of the guys”? Surely the judges won’t confess to that statement, but I’m sure that it did float around as soon as she sounded her first note on the horn. Hopefully this didn’t happen, being that one of the judges was Wayne Shorter, a saxophonist that works closely with female bassist Esperanza Spalding, who has made it clear that her gender doesn’t depend on her skill. However, Aldana happens to be the first female instrumentalist to win the competition, that has been in effect since 1987.
Say the judges weren’t judging based upon her gender. Maybe they were only listening to the music. How did creativity affect the outcome of the competition? I personally love listening to Aldana. Her professional tone gives her an older sound, but it is still relatively fresh. But what if she chose to try a Coltrane and play notes completely out of the key? What if she created the tension that’s usually frowned upon when listening to “bad” music? In other words, what if she did something that was really freaking weird with no hope for resolve to her point?
She probably would have lost the competition. That’s probably what would have happened.
There has been plenty of evidence of finalists choosing to take their own daring leaps into creativity, and losing. For example, in 2006, pianist Gerald Clayton played an original song of his that included some seriously strange leaps around the instrument. Playing original tunes doesn’t necessarily make the finalist lose the competition (Aldana played her own original piece and won), but it’s how the finalist chooses to improvise and embellish that can create the tension that the judges don’t like. Gerald Clayton got second place. As a matter of fact, he and his trio all participated in the competition in different years and all received second place! It’s interesting, being that his albums always include mostly experimental sound with traditional instruments.
This makes me believe that taking risks doesn’t necessarily constitute the kind of spirit that the competition says it wants to see. It’s not fair to market one thing and judge based on another. That’s the flaw of competitions like Monk, where scholarship money and recognition is on the basis of those who may see things differently.
It seems as if the jazz sphere likes to create their own little arguments between each other every once in a while to signify who might be the “best.” The problem comes when these people forget that they always lost those arguments as children, and will continue to lose as adults, even when talking about something a bit more sophisticated. It’s like the jazz sphere needs to take an incredibly large step back and realize that the politics of creativity are and and always will be equivalent to those petty arguments they had as children.