The case Steely Dan's song "robbery" -- and the jazz ethos
posted at 1/24/2013 12:52 PM EST
I'm about to create a thread on an artist that dovetails with an issue of a song-writing credit, in this case, Steely Dan. Since I'd like the other thread to maintain focus on music rather than lawsuits, I'll briefly outline what happened, although many of you are probably familiar with the case, if you're a Steely Dan fan.
The other aspect of this issue that's exceedingly interesting, is to note how the "jazz ethos" may differ from that of other music genres, such as rock. Here's a passage that cuts to the chase:
"In a 1980 Musician magazine interview, Steely Dan co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker got themselves into a bit of hot water with a sarcastic answer to a question about the title track to their new LP, Gaucho.
Confronted with the overwhelming musical similarities between their song and a half-decade old tune called "Long As You Know You're Living Yours" by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, the ironic songwriters quipped, dismissively: "We're the robber-barons of rock and roll." Fans of Steely Dan might have been charmed by Fagen and Becker's usual flair for the wisecrack, but Jarrett wasn't amused. He sued the songwriters for creative theft, and successfully earned himself a writing credit for "Gaucho."
NOTE: Jarrett was also awarded a cool million.
Interestingly, this wasn't even the first time Steely Dan had self-consciously alluded to a jazz recording on one of their tracks. Listen to the opening riff of their 1974 hit, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" back-to-back with the intro to Horace Silver's 1965 number, "Song for My Father," and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two.
But Silver didn't sue the Dan — perhaps recognizing the jazz ethos to which they claim in interview after interview. While a borrowing in rock and roll may be cause for litigation, jazz musicians frequently reference other works of music in moments of improvisation.
Quoting is all part of the jazz musician's bag, and if, say, the estate of Jerome Kern sued every time a saxophone player snuck in a melodic snippet from "All the Things You Are," there'd be an endless series of copyright infringement suits showing up on dockets."
So there you go. Jazz musicians see things differently, even if Keith Jarrett didn't at the time "Gaucho" was released ...