Jazz is Dead : poor title for good BBC Radio 4 programme

Just like Mark Twain’s title above, once upon a time “JAZZ IS DEAD”  was probably a provocative statement. It was the misleading title chosen for a 30-minute BBC Radio Four feature presented by Paul Morley today , New Year’s Day, available to play again. Or, as the BBC blurb has it: “Jazz was once revolutionary, but is now arguably part of the heritage industry”.

In point of fact, the programme ended up demonstrating the precise opposite. With contributions from- among others –  Seb Rochford, Nick Smart, Gary Crosby and Laura Jurd, it was an impressive piece of work, pointing out the diversity of directions which jazz encompasses, leading listeners in a number of good listening directions. A good summary would be Paul Morley’s neatly-turned sentence at 17:18 “Jazz music’s complex sonic history [.]never dies, but lies in wait for potential change.”. 

Categories: miscellaneous

19 replies »

  1. Robin Phillips wrote via Facebook:

    “Yes the conclusion was that it is not, but I suppose it's a bit like the apparent need to call TV docs 'Too Fat To Love' rather than 'Obesity Issues'…”

    Patrick Hadfield wrote via Facebook:

    “Was the program worth listening to? Paul Morley can be a touch arch at times…”

  2. I have yet to hear the program but in many ways I think that Jazz – the word – is dead. It means so many things to so many people and, although there are those of us who can encompass most styles, there are still those who live in their own pigeon hole. Also young people, other than actual players shy away from the word. I often wonder if the brilliant young musicians emerging from the jazz schools just move in their own circles or if they persuade their football loving, pop orientated contemporaries that there are other things in life such as jazz or if they simply don't try and preach the word as we did when we were young? A typical example was at Hoochie Coochie (Newcastle) with the Dutch band New Cool Collective.
    They played a groove based Latin set that had the young crowd dancing and shouting for more. Call it what you may – they were playing jazz solos yet, had they been advertised as a jazz group the place would have been empty. I remember overhearing some youngsters on the Metro (Tube)one evening going home talking about a contemporary – “He's doing Jazz!” she said. This led to incredulity and laughter all round as the object of their discourse was cast into their social wilderness

  3. maybe they could have just played some good new jazz music for 30 minutes instead of having this boring discussion – it's not as if the bbc are inundated with new jazz music the rest of the time in their scheduling.

  4. Type in (to google) pretty much any Genre of music……..
    Rock, Blues, Hip Hop, Metal, Pop, Country, etc etc,
    and someone is having lots of cliched fun with the question
    'is it dead' or fact 'it's dead'.

    The actually question 'Is blah dead' should be shot.


  5. The title of the programme alone could have been a perfect manifesto for the BBC's (predictable lack of) output of jazz for 2013. It's also ironic since the BBC has been doing its level best to kill off jazz (eg, the scrapping of the BBC jazz awards). As to the content of the programme, this made a nonsense of the puported theme by interviewing up and coming or relatively new musicians who know that the proposition is ridiculous. All this after a spectacularly successful London Jazz Festival two months ago. 30 minutes for something that should take 30 days to discuss properly.

  6. “Jazz is dead” is of course a non-proposition. But, assuming that people made the effort to listen, at least they will have been given a flavour for the energy about jazz, and the questions that are constantly raised. The only people for whom it might be dead are those people in the media who would love to scrap or reduce coverage (even further).
    But certainly if you look around in terms of imaginative ideas for performance and creativity of so many involved, it gives me a great degree of encouragement. Meanwhile, the conservatoire education system is now structured that it gives the musicians the techncial wherewithal to experiment further than ever before, without stifling them.
    Unfortunately, this energy doesn't always compensate for a lack of finances that perennially exist – from ticket sales, album sales and public funding sources.
    But stubbornness and commitment seem to mean that jazz knows how to survive even in a recession that we are seeing at present.

  7. Not listened to the programme yet, but given the young musicians I've seen play over the last few years – like Tomorrow's Warriors or The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (who I saw at the beginning of December – and they can really play!) – I've got to agree with Roger Farbey: there is a lot of young talent out there.

    Who cares what the music is called!

    “Jazz is dead!” “Long live jazz!”

  8. Phil Robson has had a wide-ranging reflection about the programme, including thoughts on what happens when jazz becomes “the night of the bored girlfriends.” A problem which in Phil's case has neatly solved itself if you read to the end!

    Phil's piece is on Facebook HERE (probably needs Facebook sign-up)

  9. Now I've listened to it all the way through I think it's clear that the only thing was the missing '?', because it was a question, and the answer, in the summary, was no. I think it was probably done this way in an attempt to be journalistically (word?) clever in order to try and make people who think they're not interested in jazz, listen to it..

    However it, as ever, came down as much to the question of 'what is jazz?' in order to see if 'it' is dead.

    I've spent so much time talking and thinking about this as I get asked it a lot at gigs, usually by people who think they might like 'jazz' but feel swamped in trying to understand it, or are scared by it (I'll return to my definition later). Like opera or whiskey it's like everything else: keep tasting it every now and again and remember what you like and what you don't, and be brave that your opinions are perfectly valid. It took me a long time to say out loud that whilst I love Monk's compositions and playing them, I don't necessarily enjoy listening to his recordings…

    Lance makes a good point, jazz as a word is too generic, but as a genre I think the jazz community needs to get braver with sub-genres, of course who signs them off and how they'd be used is the next question, there are no jazz CD departments big enough to have need for sub-genres sections (except on-line of course)..

    We should take inspiration from modern DJs who are very good at defining the subtle nuances that differentiate sub-genres. And this really helps people to discover the music that they like. I recently discovered Electro-swing and am so glad it had a genre title as it quickly enabled me to locate the important bands / producers and absorb as much as I could, without having to wade through GBs of modern music that I'm not interested in..

    I keep my 'What is jazz' definition in my blackberry and often refer to it. Whilst I have 10 points, I think that the first 4 work quite well as a definition (of course few will agree):

    1) includes an improvised element
    2) often uses conversational element (call and response, building on a theme)
    3) consists of tension and release (sometimes not enough release in my own personal opinion)
    4) since the 40s gradually uses more extended chords and related modes / advanced harmonic theory and rhythms

    The other 6 are not universal but do help beginners to understand what makes a lot of jazz, tick. Following on from above, it would be a lot easier to define a number of jazz's sub-genres. It worked well with swing, bebop, cool jazz etc…

    So I think my conclusion is, jazz has become a bit like a continent with so many varying cultures in its various countries, that you need to give the sub-sections (countries) names in order to understand them.. Being French, German, English is one thing, but what is it to be European..? Not sure if this works as a metaphor, but it came to mind..

    Always happy to continue on twitter @robinpjazz …

  10. Paul Morley's programme got put in the rapid mincer of Jon Holmes' “Pick of the Week”.

    EXTRACT from 33.52 of PODCAST

    Jon Holmes:

    “If New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz,Radio 4 was where it went to die on New Years Day.

    Paul Morley's programme 'Jazz is Dead discussed improvsed modern jazz, freestyle modern jazz and experimental modern jazz.

    Full disclosure: I hate modern jazz. All that beeping, fizzing and bumping, it sounds like someone kicking R2D2 down the stairs.

    (Extract from The Necks – then Paul Morley speaking)

    “Paul Morley attempting to defend the indefensible noise of modern jazz on Radio 4.

    And in case you think my opinion of modern jazz is wrong, which it isn't, Melvyn Bragg's series ..”

    (Segues inconsequntially into an extract from philosopher Roger Scruton on different topic, asserting the superiority of classical music over pop…)

  11. If I were Paul Morley I'd be delighted by all these comments. Perhaps if the site saw itself less as a garden shed guardian of jazz then it might actually be able to deal with the public perception of this ongoing obsession with the music's supposed imminent or alleged extinction. Jazz is dead? The debate about its very deadness is deathly, but it's not necessarily the naysayers who are doing this. Preaching to the choir is a good way of letting off hot air, and homilies even if you agree with them don't achieve much.

  12. As I understand it Jon Holmes is a comedian, isn't he? Which means he will take an extreme view in order to make a joke. But the modern comedian also wants to be a satirist. If you're not very good at this, you will confuse the extreme view you have taken in order to make a joke with the real prejudice you feel (often the result of ignorance). This is unfortunate because the people who have laughed at your jokes before will make the mistake of thinking you are therefore very clever and so they should agree with you. Whereas you are actually very stupid when talking about something of which you know nothing. Ah well…

  13. Since when did Paul Morley know how to spell jazz? If I wanted to know about the state of Jazz in Britain I might ask Geoffrey Smith, Alyn Shipton, Dave Gelly, John Fordham or even Sebastian Scotney. I wouldn't ask Paul Morley.
    However I did enjoy the moment in the programme when Morley asked Wynton Marsalis if jazz was dead. Wynton probably thought he was going to get slagged off or punched

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