Tag Archives: plagiarism

LESTER YOUNG, VICTIMIZED: “PLAGIARIZIN’ THE DEVIL”

I have a number of Google Alerts for the improvisers I love. This just came up under LESTER YOUNG.  As a jazz fan and academic horrified by plagiarism, I find it both sad and ludicrous.

Now, students can buy a term paper on Lester here.  And, if that were not enough, it is in the category BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT.  The way such term-papers-for-sale sites work is that they offer the “student” the first paragraph of the essay for free and then — should someone’s intellectual curiosity come to a full boil or should the essay be due on Tuesday — the whole essay may be purchased for a price.

Here’s the free part:

Lester Young was born in 1909 in the New Orleans area. This was a good thing for Lester; As New Orleans is the birth place of Jazz. And his father, Willis Handy Young, was a versatile musician who taught all of his children instruments and formed a family band. Lester studied violin, trumpet and drums for a time. But by the age 13 he would settle on Alto Saxophone. The oldest of three children, Lester toured with the family band for some time, often getting into disputes with his father. While touring the vaudeville circuit and carnivals, Lester grew increasingly uneasy about touring the Segregated South as well. All of this eventually came to a head, and Lester left the family Band in 1927. After Leaving, he spent the following year touring with Art Bronson’s Bostonians. While with them he took up tenor saxophone. However this was short –lived, and by 1929, Lester returned to his family in New Mexico. But then, when his family moved to California, he chose to stay behind. Lester eventually found himself performing briefly with different people and bands. In 1930, for a short while, he played with Walter Pages Blue Devils. And afterwards, wound up playing again with Art Bronson, but again, only for a while. He went on to settle in Minneapolis, where he played during 1931 with Eddie Barefield and various leaders at the Nest Club. By the time 1932 rolled around, Lester joined the thirteen original Blue Devils, and while touring with them, he met Charlie Christian. The Band would later disband in the middle of 1933. Making Kansas City his base, young went on to play with the likes of the Bennie Moten-George E. Lee Band, Clarence Love, King Oliver. On one December night, he even got to play with Fletcher Henderson, who was on tour with his star saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins.

In 1934 Lester joined the Count Basie band, an association that would eventually lead to national recognition, but by March of that year, he…

I can’t tell you what the rest of the paper — four pages, 964 words — is or what it costs.  To do so would require that I join Term Paper Warehouse, and I’ll pass on that tempting opportunity.  But I do know what Bessie Smith would have said about all of this, and it isn’t “Gee, that’s swell!”

Lester said he never wanted to be a “repeater pencil.”  Too bad that in death his biography — in microwaveable portions — is up for sale.

May your happiness increase.

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME

Two scenes from contemporary life in and around jazz, April 9 and 10, 2010:

Last night I made a pilgrimage to the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place in New York City to hear the remarkable banjoist / singer Cynthia Sayer and the noble pianist Mark Shane.  The two large rooms that house the Knickerbocker were crowded, although I found a table near the piano. 

Cynthia and Mark played beautifully — mostly up-tempo romps: LINGER AWHILE, WOLVERINE BLUES, YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME, and a sweet stroll through APRIL SHOWERS and a funky boogie-inflected YELLOW DOG BLUES.  Cynthia’s single notes hit like gunshots; she slid up and down the fingerboard in chordal glissandos; she kept the rhythm going.  Mark, a peerless accompanist and soloist, evoked Wilson and Waller and Flanagan and Hines, all splendidly woven together into Shane. 

The volume of conversation was so high that I had to strain to hear the music.  At the end of the set, Cynthia said to me, “Gee, I had a hard time hearing myself!” and Mark noted, “The noise level in this room is worse for your ears than gunfire.”  People walked so close to Cynthia while she was playing that she had to bend the neck of her banjo back to avoid getting knocked over.  Someone accosted her while she was soloing to request a tune; she kept playing and spoke to the inquirer politely. 

But it was apparent that almost no one was listening.  Perhaps eight people applauded.  Perhaps ninety-five percent of the diners didn’t keep quiet, didn’t know that there were live musicians (people!) creating music in front of them, or didn’t care.

I applaud the courage of Cynthia and Mark and their colleagues who keep creating in the face of indifference and noise.  I couldn’t do it — when I’m teaching, I ask my students to stop talking and to pay attention.  Jazz musicians, cast as “entertainers” at best or an odd version of a large iPod at worst, rarely say, “Would you all have the decency to keep it down a bit?” and I admire their heroism and restraint.  I don’t expect a restaurant to become a concert hall, and I do think that people have a right to eat their dinner and talk to their friends.  But I wonder who won or lost during that hour of combat between art versus loud self-absorbed talk at the Knickerbocker. 

On a more personal note: a writer’s voice is much like his or her speaking voice — individualistic, perhaps idiosyncratic.  I saw today’s batch of Google Alerts — one of them for Jo Jones — and began to read a memorial essay on Jake Hanna published on someone else’s blog (call it JAZZ IS FOREVER, not its name).  I saw that someone I don’t know had “written” a piece on Jake Hanna, most of which was one I had written, word for word without credit. 

I commented on this post politely, pointing out to the blog’s creator that it was not good manners to take someone else’s prose without crediting the writer.  I appealed to his courtesy while being courteous; I signed my name, appended my blog information and email address.  About eight hours later I returned to my computer and, out of curiosity, clicked on this site.  Had the gentleman printed my comment?  Had he ignored the whole thing?  Had he credited me?  None of the above: he had removed my words silently.  

Did I win a victory for intellectual property, against online plagiarism, or did I lose the opportunity to have my thoughts on Jake Hanna spread to even more readers — without my name, which frankly means less than honoring Jake?

I know that it matters not if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.  But Cynthia, Mark, and I are trying to play by the rules.  It’s not always easy. We keep trying.