In “The Presence Is Always the Point,” which included in Considering Genius, a collection of Stanley Crouch’s writings on jazz, he argues “[t]hat jazz is a music built on adult emotion while rock is focused on adolescent passion created another problem for jazz musicians who tried fusion.” I share his view on rock (not as sophisticated as jazz), but I disagree with his position against Miles Davis’s fusion direction. Davis never lost the complex emotion in jazz when he combined the two styles. Listens to Bitches Brew, one can still hear Davis’s deep expression that came out of his trumpet. Although we both have different views on jazz-rock and hip-hop, I still have respect for Crouch as a jazz critic who speaks his mind with an intellectual voice.
What makes Crouch’s essays intriguing to read is that he does not use heavy technical terms (something I avoid to do myself), yet he could let us hear the sound of jazz through his eloquent pen. If one would like to learn about several important jazz figures—such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington—“The Makers” section is perfect for that, especially the piece on Bird. Crouch started out castigating Clint Eastwood’s Bird (film) and Chan Parker’s To Bird With Love (a book filled with photos), and then told the story of legendary Parker through his own research.
Even though the “Battle Royal” section, which featured eight short pieces Crouch wrote for JazzTimes, is brief, the writings are filled with controversial topics. One comes to mind is the dismissal of John Coltrane. McCoy Tyner, Coltrane’s pianist, left the band because he was “unable to deal with many squeakers, howlers, shriekers, and honkers his boss was invited onto the bandstand.” Yet, one important detail that fascinated me the most in this book is when Crouch’s father made a comment about Billie Holiday: “You should have heard her singing one to a woman. That was when she was really singing. I saw her romancing a girl with her voice just a couple of blocks from here at an after-hours joint up near Adams Boulevard on Central Avenue. She was fine and mellow all right but she was in her element when she was trying to pull a girl up next to her.” Holy shit!