A provocation from New Orleans

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.



Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. There have been two responses to this post on Twitter

    Roanne Dods wrote:
    We have the musicians, who will rise to this challenge?

    And Corey Mwamba responded:
    Some friends and I talked about this article last week. I don't think he's talking about jazz, but U.S. music. And jazz and U.S. music are not the same thing. British musicians have been rising to this challenge for years. Nay, decades. As an article it's much more about a subset of American music than jazz as I know it.

    My response

    Thank you both. You are both on the same side of the fence, and both right.

    I think, however, that he does have a point when suggesting that those who are content to be sold homogenized, heavily marketed, predictable product will never feel comfortable with music which aspires to defy, to go beyond expectations. Which is sort of stating the obvious.

    I have seen the debate about “relevance” taken on in this country by people in this country, and it normally boils down to the assertion “my market is bigger than yours.” Yawn.

    I think that everybody is travelling at different speeds, both in the choices of music they make, and in the technologies they use to receive it. The debate is conducted with a certain swagger in the U.S. – eg when Robert Glasper leapt to the defence of hiphop in 2007 with the words 'I'd like Wynton to listen to my iPod.'

    We Brits, we Europeans mostly don't express ourselves like that.

    In the end it's for all of us to try to proselytize for the music we're passionate about, and perhaps to adhere to the credo of Jello Biafra (aka Eric Reed Boucher)

    Don't hate the media, become the media.

  2. This discussion has gone further on Twitter:

    Corey Mwamba:

    Interesting. A friend of mine pointed out that the Vision festival in New York describes what the writer wants…The Vision Festival is music community based, the story is here:
    ( http://visionfestival.org/about/mission)

    I only partly agree with your interpretation of the article, in your 2nd paragraph…

    I think he's saying they don't get THE CHANCE to reject/accept new music. It's also obvious, but distinct. And for that, he's putting the blame on the organisers.

    It's money/media driven and is not fuelled by the music. It's obvious and age-old but accurate: the challenge for musicians now is actually the “business”, NOT the art. Which is a pity.

    Roanne Dods:

    I agree which is partly why I made a challenge…am convinced there is a way f/ward driven by the art not the biz.

  3. Sons of Kemet (Shabaka Hutchings, Oren Marshall, Tom Skinner, Seb Rochford) at the Vortex last night provided the perfect riposte to this piece. They played uncompromising, full-on yet approachable music to a packed audience. It does happen already here. We just are part of a “system”, as Corey writes, is not fuelled by the music. And the journalists have filtered to them just the anodyne pastiche.
    But the message does get across. There were no journalists there (as they were all in the comfortable environment of Ronnie's listening to Danilo Perez) or the old guard of improv lovers (who only seem to appear when they recognise all the names).

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