Those "Who is the best..." polls are always fun and interesting and I'm a sucker for them. But today, I ran across this perspective that is well worth at least considering. It's in a book that I'm reading that is easily one of the best music related books I've yet to come across called Ascension; John Coltrane and His Quest by Eric Nisenson. It's basically a biography of John Coltrane, but Nisenson covers a lot of ground regarding jazz in general in this most excellent, captivating book. In the second chapter (pages 21-22), the author talks about the emergence in the 1950's of two great tenor saxophonists, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. He says, "The difficulty is that he [Rollins] was constantly compared with Coltrane, and in the late Fifties jazz fans and critics loved to argue over which one was "better", as if there were some way of objectively determining the relative quality of two men who were clearly both great artists and virtuosos of their instrument. Both men were musical geniuses with very different but equally valid artistic agendas. Here is an aspect of the jazz scene that I truly find regrettable, this spirit of competitiveness engendered by the jazz polls and by too many fans and critics. This most American music could not help adopting certain less fortunate traits of its native land, such as the extreme competitiveness so endemic to the American way of life. In art, competition, though perhaps unavoidable, is basically irrelevant. Both Coltrane and Rollins were ultimate masters of their instruments and the art of improvisation, and the style of each man was so deeply personal that comparisons are fruitless." When I read these words, I really had to pause and think about all these "Who is the best..." polls. It became even more provocative when I read on: "Nevertheless, the competition, engendered by the jazz press and continued in every bar or hangout where jazz fans gathered, became intense enough to force Sonny Rollins into a retirement that lasted about two years. What was worse, it put a crimp in the friendship between the two men." That read like a tragedy to me.