1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

The Motown Funk Brothers: Jazz Hacks?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by PolkaHero, Jul 31, 2017.

  1. PolkaHero


    Jan 5, 2002
    I can't believe what I read in a recent interview with Bill Laswell. He expresses his dislike for the Motown sound, much preferring the Memphi/Stax sound. He actually says the studio musicians from Motown were a bunch of musicians who weren't good enough to make it in jazz so they turned to pop music instead. Anyone else disagree with this statement?
  2. Frank Tuesday

    Frank Tuesday

    Jul 11, 2008
    Austin, TX
    So he doesn't like the Motown sound, and he's trying to justify it using an elitist attitude. Who cares. You like it or you don't. Why do you want Laswell to validate your opinion?
  3. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    A lot of pseudo-purists say things like this. It's OK to like both.
  4. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Laswell can be pretty cynical and cutting. It wouldn't surprise me if he was just making that comment to ruffle someone's feathers (though I don't know whose feathers those would be). I'd like to know the context of the quote. His preferring Stax to Motown is totally legitimate but the reasons for the Motown musicians playing what they played seems totally irrelevant to me. It doesn't matter if they weren't great jazz players - just as it doesn't matter that the guys at Stax probably weren't great jazz players. They were all fantastic musicians, period - and they played pop as well as anyone (including heavy jazz guys).
  5. Good thing they weren't very good at jazz otherwise no one would have ever heard of them.
    Meanwhile, the so called hack bass player known as James Jamerson is legendary.
  6. prd004


    Dec 3, 2010
    Watch standing in the shadows of mowtown....... they were jazz musicians
  7. ....They were also gardeners

  8. Oddly

    Oddly Unofficial TalkBass Cartographer! Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    Bill who?
  9. lowplaces

    lowplaces Got Punch ? Supporting Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Louisville Kentucky
    Beat me to it.

    I have never heard his name before. I don't think I'm going to waste my time trying to find out who he is either.

    Stupid thing to say, and typical of those who think music is some sort of competition.

  10. My guess is that Motown is a bit to bubblegum pop for him. I acquired more and more of a taste for a lot of Motown because of the funk brothers/James Jamerson despite generally liking more gritty rhythm and blues. The musicianship on many of those tracks is unquestionable and they are by far the most prolific rhythm section of their time. Look at the list of hits and great songs. As a guy who might prefer the recording of Atlantic, Stax and Muscle Sholes, I think his gripe is probably a bit misplaced and could be directed up the power structure of Motown. And maybe even give the musicians some credit they never really got. Also Ive never heard any bassist call Jamerson a jazz hack so that's surprising.

    And there's some evidence to the contrary. Dare I even say proof.

    Last edited: Aug 1, 2017
  11. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    The Funk Brothers played jazz for fun in Detroit clubs at night and made far more money in their day jobs playing music they couldn't stand in "The Pit" than most professional jazzers could ever dream of making.
  12. PolkaHero


    Jan 5, 2002
    If anyone is interested in reading the original source, here it is: Bill Laswell: Four Strings, Zero Limits | Premier Guitar

    Direct quote: "Motown was a lot of jazz musicians who all had their own thing, but they weren’t good enough to be jazz musicians, so they were in Motown. They were great at what they did, but to me it was a little complicated and jazz-oriented compared to something like Stax.”
  13. Helix

    Helix California U.S.A.

    May 29, 2015
    In other news

    “Big Bird” calls “Foghorn Leghorn” a hack that could never play up to the standards of Sesame Street
    eddododo, fclefgeoff, vdbass and 11 others like this.
  14. ihixulu

    ihixulu Supporting Member

    Mar 31, 2000
    South Shore MA
    Steve Smith, the drummer for Journey, is a ferocious fusion player who could hang with Stanley Clarke and Wayne Shorter. As good as he is, though, there was no way he could make as much playing jazz as rocking "Don't Stop Believin'" night after night. Now, I really don't like "Don't Stop Believin'" but I'd be a fool to say that Steve Smith settled for pop-rock because he couldn't hack it in jazz.
  15. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    They crafted a sound that made hit after hit. I don't care if they couldn't play jazz, they did Motown really well. Why does everyone have to be good at everything? There isn't TIME to pursue everything on this earth.

    I'd love to be a jazz reject and then go on and create a sound, and a unique legacy that spans generations in a new genre. I'm a jazz musician first, but James Jamerson influenced my playing heavily when I worked through his basslines on Standing the the Shadows of Motown.

    His use of hammer ones and pull-offs, sailing over the beat, and the way he used the harmonic structure of the song to create hooks for the song certainly qualifies him to play jazz in my view, but i don't care if he couldn't.

    In standing in the shadows of motown, it actually says he could play jazz. Before he made it with Motown, he played jazz gigs on upright where he learned the flat keys, and also played pop gigs where he learned the natural keys. So I don't agree that he couldn't play jazz -- the rest, I don't know, but Jamerson was cool.
  16. jaymelewis


    Jan 6, 2010
    Fillmore, CA
    I'm really not into sizing-up types of comparisons; I don't think they get you anywhere. Take note of the differences? Yes. Analyze what made each one unique? Definitely. Apply what you like to your own playing? ABSOLUTELY! But what good is it making judgments about their motivations, the limits of their abilities (who could possibly know that!?!?), why they did what they did... That doesn't really help you at all, I don't think, so I just choose not to pay attention to those arguments. Hope that helps!
  17. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Is anyone likely to make a full-length film called "Standing in the Shadows of Laswell"? ....nah, didn't think so ;).
  18. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2008
    Houston, TX
    I don't know about the Jazz part,,, but I generally prefer the Memphis sound over Motown. And I prefer the Muscle Shoals sound over both of those.
    Rocker949 and pbass2 like this.
  19. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    This is true as far as I know from what i've read. The Motown musicians played jazz for fun. Motown songs, generally speaking, are really cheesy. It's pop music. Sure, they're classic songs played by great musicians, recorded on classic equipment with a characteristic sound, but many of those famous compositions are just bubblegum pop.

    Perhaps the levels of musicianship and skill in jazz were so high in those days, that the Motown guys just weren't the most virtuosic or fastest / craziest players when compared to the 100% jazz purists. Doesn't mean they were no good at jazz, it just means the standard was probably insanely high, and you could only get to such levels of virtuosity by being a purist and dedicating all your playing time to jazz.
    joebar, aborgman and RBrownBass like this.
  20. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    at the end of the day the Motown stuff still makes millions of people from multiple generations dance and smile so whatever
    Groove Doctor and FilterFunk like this.

Share This Page