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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why musicians are always bitter

Reviewing DUKE: A Life of Duke Ellington in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik recognises that Ellington took tunes invented by his famous sidemen and called them his own, but also makes the following good point about someone like Billy Strayhorn:
"Would he have had the energy and mastery to form a band, sustain it, recruit the right musicians, survive their eccentricities and addictions, give them music they could play, record it, and keep enough of a popular audience alive to justify the expense of the rest?"
He probably wouldn't. Ellington's genius was for getting the most out of other people and that will probably involve exploiting them. The tragedy is that music publishing is a winner-takes-all game that over-compensates the person who gets their name in the credits and under-compensates the Billy Strayhorns of this world.  It also explains why musicians over the age of forty are always bitter.

3 comments:

  1. Gene Roddenberry did an Ellington when he put lyrics to the Star Trek theme.

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  2. You can transpose this to rock artists. The Stones supposedly lifted a Bill Wyman riff for Jumping Jack Flash, whereas Only Rock 'n' Roll - was a wholesale Ronnie Wood offering - both tracks being eventually credited to Jagger/Richards..

    Bowie refitted Luther Vandross' Funky Music as Fascination on Young Americans, but at least had the decency to include Vandross in the publishing

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  3. "Bowie refitted Luther Vandross' Funky Music as Fascination on Young Americans, but at least had the decency to include Vandross in the publishing"

    ...which Blur didn't when photocopying Boys Keep Swinging for M.O.R., although a quiet word from Bowie and Eno's representatives soon changed that...

    I take Gopnik's point but would he (Gopnik) be impressed if, say, Greil Marcus used that point as his own?

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