A bit of a row over qualifications. And congrats to a legend lots of people never heard of before last night.
A brief detour today, then we're back to Natalee Holloway.
I'm fascinated by the emerging Capitol Hill flap over Dr. Robert Jarvik's suitability as a spokes-shill for Pfizer in those ubiquitous, cloying Lipitor ads. Again, if you hadn't heard, some Congressional types, led by Rep. John Dingell, a career skeptic of drug-industry tactics, have raised concerns about whether Jarvik's status as the inventor of the artificial heart may unduly influence consumers about his fitness to speak authoritatively to the benefits of Lipitor. Though Jarvik* is technically an MD, he doesn't practice and isn't certified in cardiology. It also appears that the ads use body doubles to give the misleading appearance that Jarvik—who says he takes Lipitor—now indulges in any number of arduous physical activities, including rowing. Jarvik's long-time collaborator at the Texas Heart Institute, the nearly equally famous O.H. "Bud" Frazier, had this to say: "He's about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen. He can't row." (NOTE: We don't actually know whether Woody Allen rows, but I'd be kind of surprised.) Third-quarter 2007 sales for Lipitor, the world's best-selling drug, hit $3.3 billion.
But notice what's happening here. Jarvik is a medical doctor, even if he's not currently licensed to practice. And though he's not a cardiologist, either, the guy did, after all, invent the artificial freakin' heart. You'd think that all of that might give him at least some standing—a "platform," as it's known—to credibly air his feelings about a heart drug. And yet despite all that, there are watchdogs who consider Jarvik's background insufficient or ill-suited to the task.
Compare that sort of ultra-close scrutiny of credentials to what you have in SHAMland...where people who were running Carvel franchises a few months ago reinvent themselves overnight as "executive coaches" and dispense all sorts of life-changing advice to clients at hourly rates that few cardiologists could get away with.
Think about it.
And, a point of personal privilege... I'd be remiss if I let the day pass without noting Herbie Hancock's stunning "Album of the Year" victory at last night's Grammy Awards. In achieving that coup, he somehow bested such pop powerhouses as Kanye West and Amy Winehouse. Though Herbie was, admittedly, awarded for his work on a "crossover" project, River: The Joni Letters—a tribute to his long-time friend, pop/folk songstress Joni Mitchell—it's nice to see somebody from the jazz world getting props in categories outside the limited context of jazz itself. (For years now, the Grammy's haven't even been giving out the jazz awards on-camera; they're marginalized to treatment in recap form, like the esoteric technical categories at the Oscar's.) This is all the more true in an era when "harmonic complexity" seems to mean the ability to combine more than three simple chords in the same song.
And, of course, Herbie Hancock isn't just "somebody." If you're not into jazz and you know the name at all, it's likely as a result of Herbie's showstopper live performance of his fusion hit, Rockit, at the 1984 Grammy's—acknowledged as a banner moment in Grammy history. (Maximize the view and watch it all the way through. I think you'll thank me.) But for half a century Herbie has been one of the most influential figures in American jazz and, I dare say, American music—whether credited for that influence or not. He came to prominence as part of what some jazz aficionados consider the idiom's greatest quintet ever: the "second great Miles Davis group"**, which included Wayne Shorter on sax, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. From there, and along with such contemporaries as McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, Herbie went on to change the way the piano was played, not just inventing new harmonic voicings and improvising dozens of the more technically astonishing solos on record, but also composing some of the most lyrical and haunting melodic lines to come out of the modern-jazz period (Dolphin Dance, for one. And if you listen to the track, pay attention to Herbie's subtle chord-work in the background).
I'll end with an unusually candid quote from one of Herbie's fellow nominees, country singer Vince Gill. Upon being asked how he felt about Herbie getting the award before the likes of West and Winehouse, Gill replied: "I think Herbie Hancock, hands down, is a better musician than all of us here put together." Amen. And congrats, Herbie.
* whose wife is the officially declared "world's smartest person," Parade columnist Marilyn vos Savant. I open SHAM with a memorable quote from her about the limits of possibility.
** The first was the one with John Coltrane, arguably the foremost figure in jazz's so-called modern period.