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Artists Anonymous

In response to:

What Is Quality in Music? from the June 19, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

I do hate to delve into such trivia in times such as these, but, really, you would be obliging both your writers and your readers were you to prevent further public spectacles by forbidding your European music reviewers from referring to anything outside their own narrow province. I have in mind particularly Virgil Thomson’s article, “What is Quality in Music,” in which the author states:

Authenticity is the requirement for jazz and blues [both essentially non-European musics, incidentally], since their largely anonymous production procedure denies them authorship.

If this means what I think it means—lucidity isn’t exactly the outstanding characteristic of Mr. Thomson’s sentence—it is utter nonsense at best, and the most undisguised snobbishness at worst. In point of fact, any moderately conversant jazz listener can identify countless musicians, by name, after hearing them play only a few measures. The same goes, parri passu, for blues singers. Mr. Thomson may not be aware of it (which raises an interesting question in itself, but never mind for now) but it is probably easier for a jazz listener with a reasonably good ear to distinguish, say, Pharoah (his spelling) Sanders from the late John Coltrane than for his European-oriented counterpart to identify correctly all the major and minor members of the Bach family. Or, to switch to blues, easier to tell B.B. King from his alleged half-brother Albert than to perform the same task with two of the Bachs….

Frank Kofsky

American Studies Department

California State College

Los Angeles

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