continued from page 13
share their resentment? Both of these books are about the intense personal excitement that having this power brings. Clive Davis turned down the chance to be Executive Vice-President of the CBS-Columbia group simply because he'd have had to spend all his time administrating and necessarily leave "the creative wars" behind him.
Thus, it's critical to keep a broad perspective in mind as one reads these books. The music industry is represented as glamorous, exciting, and creatively fulfilling, even if it is hard work. All that is true. But that one universe isn't the whole story, it's simply another chapter of the old capitalist story - that story of a few men, even a few sensitive men, at the top, deciding what's right for everyone else. Ultimately, of course, what they decide is "right" is whatever perpetuates their profits.
Radio program directors and record company heads agree that hit tunes must fit an established formula mold in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and thereby insure their investment. If it weren't for books like Gillett's and the exceptional programming of radio stations like WDET-FM, Detroit and WCBN-FM, here in Ann Arbor, most people would never have the slightest chance to discover that they're heir to a musical tradition that dates back through mindblowing artists like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, and on to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith. Programmers today have only to overcome their timidity in order to discover the continued commerciality of these artists.
Jazz musicians since the Sixties especially have borne the brunt of the commercial crunch. Some have responded by taking matters into their own hands and producing and distributing their own records as has the Jazz Composers Orchestra, or locally, the musicians involved with Strata Records in Detroit.
Perhaps the most revealing and prophetic thing written by Davis in his book is his response to the Grateful Dead's recent attempts to control all the aspects of the production and distribution of their music by way of Rounder Records - "I found this a very threatening idea. If this system works for them, the precedent will strike at the very heart of the record business. . . it could restructure everything drastically."
The incredible postscript, still being written ten months after he completed his book, is that Clive Davis is heading up Arista Records, which is an independent, if not artist-controlled, effort. Much of the new Arista release is remarkable for the extremely high musical and political integrity of the artists represented - Gato Barbieri, Ornette Coleman, Charles Tolliver, Gil Scott-Heron, Cecil Taylor - and for their traditionally low commercial profile.
I was unable to reach Clive for comment on his plans but did talk to Cecil Taylor in New York. Pianist/composer Taylor, unquestionably one of the two or three major innovators in jazz for the last decade and a half, is known industrywide for his uncompromising attitude towards his music, especially as it relates to the music business. (For much more on this remarkable man get a hold of A.B. Spellman's "Four Lives".) He formed his own label, Unit Core Records, in 1973 and released the brilliant "Spring Of Two Blue J's" which features his own quartet. It was consequently surprising to see his music being distributed by Arista. Could Clive Davis be so very persuasive? What did he mean to get out of Cecil?
Cecil explained that he had never signed with Arista. That his 1974 Montreaux Jazz Festival performance, "Silent Tongues" was contracted to be recorded by Black Lion Records, a small European company. He agreed to do it for what he thought was a "very acceptable wage" from a company of that size. However, he instructed his lawyer to write a provision into his contract protecting him in the event of his performance being sold to an American company. Cecil's lawyer "who doesn't understand the position that (he) holds" fucked up. Clive wound up with the disc and Cecil has yet to be additionally compensated. Cecil has learned by rude experience that "unless you cooperate with the establishment, they make it damned impossible for you to operate successfully in the economic sphere" and although he could distribute "Silent Tongues" on Unit Core he is admittedly intrigued enough, at this point, by the distribution possibilities of Arista to withhold action, legal or otherwise and wait to see what happens. The whole world, the whole of the music world, anyway, is watching with him.