Friday, December 11, 2009

Weirdest Jazz Story of the Year: Spain's (Sort of) Jazz Police Investigate Saxophonist Larry Ochs

Kenny G wields his chirpy soprano sax for bland instrumental pop, markets it as jazz, makes a mint, and nobody bats an eye. Aside from, you know, curmudgeonly music critics (like me).

So it's odd, and more than a little amusing, to hear that Larry Ochs, the first-rate, highly creative saxophonist was hassled in Spain on Monday night by a festivalgoer who contended that the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core erred on the side of being too contemporary, and not adequately jazzy.

According to a story in the UK's Guardian newspaper, Spanish police raided the Siguenza Jazz Festival after a concertgoer complained about Ochs' music.

Where are the Jazz Police when you really need them? They'd really come in handy when a certain local festival turns over all its headlining positions to boring "smooth jazz" acts. I'd welcome the Jazz Police to help keep incessant talkers and noisemakers from rudely ruining my enjoyment of concerts.

And maybe pianist Keith Jarrett would cease his godawful audible humming -- which sometimes spoils otherwise brilliant solo and trio performances -- if there were a chance that the Jazz Police would intervene.

By the way, Ochs' group played the EMIT series at St. Petersburg's Dali Museum on Oct. 10. Thanks to EMIT director and trombonist/bandleader David Manson for reminding me.

For more info on the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core, click here. Listen to the group's tune "And Nothing But" here.

The full text of the story is below:

Spanish fan calls police over saxophone band who were just not jazzy enough

Festival-goer claims it was 'psychologically inadvisable' for him to hear Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core perform

Jazzman Larry Ochs has seen many things during 40 years playing his saxophone around the world but, until this week, nobody had ever called the police on him.

That changed on Monday night however, when's Spain's pistol-carrying Civil Guard police force descended on the Sigüenza Jazz festival to investigate allegations that Ochs's music was not, well, jazz.

Police decided to investigate after an angry jazz buff complained that the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core group was on the wrong side of a line dividing jazz from contemporary music.

The jazz purist claimed his doctor had warned it was "psychologically inadvisable" for him to listen to anything that could be mistaken for mere contemporary music.

According to a report in El País newspaper yesterday, the khaki-clad police officers listened to the saxophone-playing and drumming coming from the festival stage before agreeing that the purist might, indeed, have a case.

His complaint against the organisers, who refused to return his money, was duly registered and will be passed on to a judge.

"The gentleman said this was not jazz and that he wanted his money back," said the festival director, Ricardo Checa.

"He didn't get his money. After all, he knew exactly what group he was going to see, as their names were on the festival programme.

He added: "The question of what constitutes jazz and what does not is obviously a subjective one, but not everything is New Orleans funeral music.

"Larry Ochs plays contemporary, creative jazz. He is a fine musician and very well-renowned."

"I thought I had seen it all," Ochs, who reportedly suffered a momentary identity crisis, told El País. "I was obviously mistaken."

"After this I will at least have a story to tell my grandchildren," the California-based saxophonist added.

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