Jul 26 2014
Another “Jazz is Dead” column? Just copy-and-paste this…
I’m as tired as anyone from the occasional, random columns, both on blogs and, shamefully, in conventional news sources, typically entitled something to the effect of “Jazz is Dead.”
I encounter way too many excellent new jazz recordings to believe that statement to be anything but a whole lot of fuck-all.
Every week I’m highlighting outstanding new recordings, which serve to illustrate the breadth and variation of expressions that call Jazz its home. Some of them are forward-thinking, while some of them are rooted firmly in the Jazz of Today, and then others immerse themselves lovingly into the Jazz traditions that serve as the foundation and lineage on which Jazz continues to grow… and thrive.
These Jazz musicians I listen to and spotlight on this site (and on Wondering Sound), I want them all to have huge financial success and be able to focus solely on their art. But their ability to do so isn’t an indicator of the medium’s spirit. It’s the music itself. And if a columnist proclaiming that Jazz is dead is citing commercial considerations or just revealing a lack of knowledge of the music that’s out there, then that’s got nothing to do with Jazz… it’s a sign that the columnist doesn’t have a clue about where to look for signs of life.
I give a pretty good rant. On a lot of subjects, really, but when it comes to music, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have strong feelings about these “Jazz is Dead” columns.
But I just got left in the shade.
A recent visit to the AllAboutJazz forums had me fall upon a post from forum member Alypius, who shot down the latest “Jazz is Dead” column, which somebody linked to on the forum. It should be standard boilerplate response to any of those stupid columns.
This is pretty much the entire post word-for-word. I removed a couple sentences and left off the opening and closing sentences, just because they were specific to the article in question and looked out of place when removed from that context. And like I said, now it’s ready for you to copy-and-paste into the comments section of the next “Jazz is Dead” column you encounter.
Here it is:
Your essay is a real head-scratcher. Man, I have to ask: Are you even listening? Are you really aware of the range of creativity going on out there? I find all such global hand-wringing tiresome. And it’s tiresome because it’s not true. I am not prone to rants, but hand-wringing such as what you have posted provoke them. Lack of innovation? Give me a break. There is a richness of creativity going on today that makes a lot of jazz of the past look staid and old-fashioned. There are rhythmic innovations, harmonic innovations, innovations in the choice and use of instruments, an unheard-of compositional richness, and dialogues with musics from across the planet.
You heard Steve Lehman? He’s drawing on compositional techniques from the cutting-edge of contemporary classical. Have you bothered to go and hear the Wayne Shorter Quartet perform recently — these mind-boggling hour-long fearless explosions of sound? Have you bothered to chart the ambitious and prolific career of Dave Douglas? John Zorn? Brad Mehldau? Heard Craig Taborn? Darcy James Argue? David Binney? William Parker & Hamid Drake? If you’ve actually heard any of these folks, you would not have the audacity to speak as you did. Lack of innovation? Please, give me a break.
Go dig out some of those 1960s LPs. In that supposed heyday of jazz, that supposed golden age, there were lots of copy-cat records. Lack of innovation abounded. In their defense, some of those guys were just trying to make ends meet in a tough economic environment. What is different today is not the creativity. It’s the abysmal state of music industry. Jazz artists have very, very few clubs to play. They get virtually no publicity for latest ventures. They certainly get no support from record companies. Don’t rose-color the past: artists really struggled back then too.
You ever actually read a history of jazz? The biggest jazz audiences were during the fusion era when Miles Davis played rock festivals like the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t just Miles’ musical creativity. He was very gutsy in terms of his business decisions — for instance, figuring out how in the late 1950s to move from Prestige to Columbia, then later throwing his venerable jazz legacy to the wind by embracing electric trends and working with Bill Graham and the rock scene. By the way, some people are pretty critical of the “creativity” of the fusion era — exactly the period when jazz had, numerically speaking, its biggest audiences. As for today, many of the economic issues faced by creative jazz artists are, often enough, the very same ones that plague creative classical artists and plague creative rock artists: people don’t seem willing to pay to listen to music any more. Creativity abounds — but it doesn’t pay.
Let me go back to the beginning of my rant: Are you listening?
Here’s a LINK to the original discussion thread on the AllAboutJazz forum. After some downtime, it appears that they are back up and running. This thread was one of the first things I came upon since checking back in on the AAJ forum. It gave me a real chuckle, and reminded me of why forums like that need to be supported… just a great environment to shoot the breeze about this music.
Speaking of which, Alypius has put in some serious sweat work on that forum developing a very cool resource, the discussion thread entitled “Playlists for Newcomers to Jazz.” You can find it HERE.
In honor of Alypius’s post, here’s a track from one of his favorite albums of the year thus far, from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, the album Mother’s Touch…
And here’s a link to an album review I wrote on this site.
July 26, 2014 @ 6:33 pm
Thanks Dave, it’s the tireless work of you and a few others that keep this music in the media. And I could not agree more than with the sentiments in both yours and Alypius’ column. I will be sure to share.
July 26, 2014 @ 6:49 pm
Hey, Bill. Thanks for the kind words.
And also my thanks to all the musicians who create this great music I happily put the spotlight on. Their hard work eclipses my own, and their music makes life so much better.