Blog #45: Who killed Jazz?
For as long as I've played Jazz, I've heard phrases like "What can we do to save Jazz?", "How do we bring back Jazz and make it popular?", "Why is Jazz Dying?"
I pose a new question: Who Killed Jazz?
I've lived in New York City, Jazz Center of the World, for 5 years now. I've played at places like The Bluenote to large audiences and at dive bars to crickets. I've hung at Jam sessions, booked gigs, released a CD, talked with press, booking agents, club owners and Jazz Educators. This isn't to say "Been there done that", its just to point out what I'm drawing my conclusions from. So, Who Killed Jazz?
The Jazz Media Killed Jazz.
I know that may sound weird. Why would the Jazz Media(magazines, websites, etc) kill Jazz? Aren't they trying to get people interested in Jazz? Isn't that where they make their profits? How'd they do it? How'd they get away with it?
The Jazz Media killed Jazz by deciding what music they would cover and what music they would ignore. I am a HUGE Jazz fan, and I can tell you I haven't purchased a Jazz Magazine since 2002(with the exception of a few that printed my name or mentioned me). The reason I haven't been interested is that its all the same shit. If I'm killing time in a bookstore, I'll flip through and see its nothing but stories about 'New remastered versions of John Coltrane", or "Miles Davis: Kind of Blue Revisited". If it is artists that are still alive its "Roy Haynes plays the Music of Charlie Parker". It doesn't take a genius to realize the Jazz Media is resting on its laurels and dwelling in past glories. The twist about these tribute albums and stories is that they DO sell. Albums of standards usually sell better than albums of original music; which is why record companies pressure their artists to do them. And while these all may lead to selling a few CDs or Magazines its a short term solution because its not perpetuating NEW artists and NEW music that people will get into, buy CDs and see concerts from. If this continues in 40 years we'll still being seeing more "'So and so' plays the music of Thelonious Monk" as opposed to "'So and So' plays the music of David Binney."
What 'New' Music that the Jazz Media does decide to cover is also quite (un)interesting and usually falls into two catagories; Pop Jazz acts(usually attractive female singers doing the same old songbook) or Avant Garde Artists whose music is hard for the general population to 'get'.(I would also like to add if a Jazz Media member doesn't understand the music, he is most likely to assume its 'Deep and Profound'). Classic 'Emporor's New Clothes' syndrome at work here.
If the Jazz Media killed Jazz, how'd they get away with it?
The accomplices to the Murder: Jazz Fans. That's right, its also your fault. You let them get away with it, by jumping on board and saying, 'yeah, I guess you're right 'so and so' is pretty good', as opposed to making your own opinions or searching out more obscure musicians who were making great new original music that you actually might like more.
Jazz Educators are also responsible for killing Jazz(stop and think about how fucked up that is!). As a product of Jazz School, I can say there is a huge emphasis put on playing in a traditional style as opposed to striving to find what you like to play. Why develop your own voice when you can just copy Charlie Parker?! This conservative approach isn't helping the production of new original voices.
How do we fix it?
Jazz has always been a music that is about growth and changing. The Beboppers were definitely pushing the music when it was their time, and many people didn't think what they were playing was 'Jazz'. Putting 'Jazz' into a box is one thing that is doing great harm to it. Let it grow, embrace it, stop holding on to the past. I love Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson and we will always have those guys. Jazz as what WAS exists on records and there will always be traditionalists on the scene. Jazz as they define it may be dead, you just need to update your definition if you want it to live.
Next week I'll cover "How to Kill your Career with a few simple Blog Entries" :)