Brian Ross, writing in the Huffington Post about the New Orleans Jazz Festival puts the that jazz needs to be more “cool” and less “irrelevant” rather than send people to sleep. A link to thefull article is below. These 13 paragraphs speak – and pretty loudly – for themselves.
Jazz, like classical music, has become more of an acquired taste. John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and Thelonius Monk, to name a few, pushed the music out of its Big Band conformity, exploring the outer limits of music, time and space with their instruments. Artistically successful? Sure. Distancing from popularity, though, was a financial disaster. Pop music isn’t big on dissonance. It isn’t big on free. It delivers the tune that has been played a thousand times with minor variations. The driving drumming rock ballad. The soul singer soaring upward to that big crescendo. The rap riff ripped over some classic beat.
Modern Jazz deviates. It explores. It redefines. Sometimes it is linear. Sometimes it is not.
That doesn’t resonate well in our Billions and Billions Served McMedia-Hyped music business.
We lack an Ahmet Ertegün, founder of Atlantic Records, or an Alfred Lion, founder of Blue Note. Men behind the jazz stars who made them epic, who promoted them and made them edgy, relevant, cool. Ertegun’s last shot at it before his death, the debut of Norah Jones, was as close as jazz has come to being a major popular art form again.
Academia, the refuge of able jazz musicians great and small, preserves the music, but it also limits it. What’s taught in school isn’t cool.
Most of the great American music forms rise out of the poorest neighborhoods, from the porches and churches and taverns of humble beginnings. They are also about the taboo, setting new trends, and, let’s face it: Pissing off your parents. Music is a generational battle cry, and a rebellion against the prior generation.
The jazz of the Roaring ’20s was the music of prohibition. It was free. It was wild. It was sinful.
Rock was the music that was going to corrupt American youth.
Now it is Rap’s turn.
Jazz needs a spark. It needs a new direction. Respect the history, but for it to thrive, it needs to be cool again. It needs to be counter-culture. It needs to piss off more parents.
Perhaps one of today’s stars, perhaps someone in a high school classroom, or playing on the streets of New Orleans, will be that person to give jazz back its cool. Maybe a new producer/imprimatur will arrive on the scene and reignite the genre.
If not, I fear that Jazz will continue its slide into longhaired academic irrelevance.