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mjzee

Can Jazz Be Saved?

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In 1987, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring jazz to be “a rare and valuable national treasure.” Nowadays the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis is taught in public schools, heard on TV commercials and performed at prestigious venues such as New York’s Lincoln Center, which even runs its own nightclub, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

Here’s the catch: Nobody’s listening.

No, it’s not quite that bad—but it’s no longer possible for head-in-the-sand types to pretend that the great American art form is economically healthy or that its future looks anything other than bleak.

Continued here:

Wall Street Journal

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Nothing that can't be fixed with duct tape, WD-40 and a hammer. :cool:

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And it accepts Jesus Christ as its Lord and personal Savior.

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If the only thing that needs to happen is "thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners", then it doesn't deserved to be "saved".

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If the only thing that needs to happen is "thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners", then it doesn't deserved to be "saved".

Obviously, Skid is a deep thinker. <_<

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Yes. All I know is that any problem can be solved through better marketing. No deep thinking required. :rolleyes::P

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Terry Teachout is an intelligent guy, but the last paragraph of this piece makes me want to scream:

"By the same token, jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners—not next month, not next week, but right now."

It's not a matter of "how to pitch it" -- to "young listeners" or to listeners of any damn age. It's a matter of how to make some music that will inherently/more or less naturally be meaningful -- and by that I mean meaningful in that it fully, unapologetically engages the mind and heart, not "This is good for you" meaningful, or "This is better than something that we think is crap but won't say so 'cause we're doing some pitching here," or "Please like our stuff because it's a national cultural treasure," or "Try this Kool-Aid Lite version of our stuff that isn't wholly unlike some stuff that we already think you like," or "Dig this -- it's a swinging little musical story about Barack Obama, and you already voted for him, right?" etc.

I mean, when jazz did have audiences that sustained the music economically, socially, spiritually, etc,, how did that work? Look into the mirrors of our own life experiences, and we all know the answers. Did "pitching" play a key role in what grabbed our attention and earned our loyalty? I don't think so, not much and certainly not pitching of the "This is good for you" sort. (The only sort of pitching that did work up to a point, though it also had its problems, was the "This is hip" sort.)

Availability/exposure -- yes, that is a problem. If you don't ever get to hear the music much, there ain't much hope. But if the music has that "thing" and is in circles/places where it can be heard in a comfortable/accessible manner (I know "comfortable" is a simple word for a potentially complex set of circumstances), then people will find it out. The current Chicago scene is a sterling example; it works, within economics limits to be sure, but it does work: good novel music is being made that has been found by audiences that find it engaging, and is found by them because they find it engaging.

Further, in my experience most of the kind of pitching that Terry T. and others (especially most of the arts organization/foundation people) inevitably have in mind is virtually antithetical to the sound circular process that I briefly described above ever the hell taking place. Yes, those arts organization/foundation folks have money, and properly applied dough is never unwelcome, not at all. But what most of those people want to do is march at the head of some cultural parade while they also get credit for there being a parade in the first place. What they won't do, except in very rare instances, is take a look at what already is working and that might work better and more easily with discreet applications of dough, and just provide the dough to the right creative people who also know how to make things happen practically and then just get the hell of out the way. But they can't do that; it leaves them feeling useless, or not "useful" in the ways that they want to/need to feel.

To put it in another but perhaps usefully crude manner, you can't be coerced, nudged, shamed, chucked under the chin, etc. into really wanting to f--- someone. And if you do f--- him or her under those circumstances, you're probably not going to want to f--- him or her again.

Oh, wait -- that brings to mind the one real answer that Terry T's cry of woe implies (at least to me): Rather than come up with more chin-chucking, beard-pulling cultural schemes and the like, let's just pay people to go hear jazz, pay them all the money that the arts organization/foundations would have poured into projects that had no real artistic reason to get off the ground or that just would have fallen between the cracks as it gets passed along. Bingo -- the jazz audience problem is over!

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Jazz died a long time ago. It was a particular style of music relevant to a particular time in history. That time passed long ago. The fact that the audience was so young, relatively speaking, shows that there was a cohort of fans still actively supporting the music, if you go back 30 years closer to its heyday. 30 years out and the fan base has done nothing but age. And die.

Like jazz.

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The jazz fans who are saying that the music is dying remind me of this old Jewish joke

There was once a Jew named Itzik. He was a devout Jew who observed the 613 commandments. He attended shul devotedly and served on the committee that ran it. Itzik performed acts of lovingkindness to help the poor and the sick. He donated to create dowries for poor brides. He was a mensch in every respect.

But Itzik was a relatively poor man and his capacity to do good was severely limited by his lack of wealth. So he began to think: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I would win the lottery! Just think of all the good deeds I could perform! I could replace the shul’s leaking roof, feed the sick and hungry, provide wedding feasts for poor newlyweds.”

So Itzik began perusing the newspaper each week to discover his name among the lucky winners. He didn’t win the first week. So he said to himself: “God didn’t want me to win this week. But for sure he understands the great good I can do with my winnings and he’ll make me a winner next week.” When next week’s winners were announced, he again was not among them. This time he addressed God directly: “Lord, please remember how my entire life is devoted to You and to doing good for my fellow man. Please heed my call and make me a winner.” When next week’s winners were announced again he wasn’t among them. This time Itzik was bereft and addressed God again: “Lord, I don’t understand why you haven’t answered my prayer. Don’t you understand how much good I can if you make me a winner? What on earth can I have done wrong to again be a loser?”

A booming voice from heaven replied: “Itzik, BUY A TICKET!!”

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Dancing is good.

The formalizing of jazz performance is appropriate for some musics. But if you want folks to have a good time, dancing is always good. Loud, boisterous partying. Lots of bodies rumbling together. Glasses clinking. Toasts all around! That's what's popular. And I think that's what jazz was, at one time.

Now, it's all too often the Lincoln Center, no cell phones, shut-up and listen. Ssshhhhhhh. Oh yeah, and that'll cost you $60. Thank you and be seated.

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The harder you try to keep it alive, the more it'll die.

If you want it to live, let it "die", and then watch it come back - just not looking or sounding like it did before. But it'll be alive like a motherfucker!

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I perused the Friday New York Times Art Section and saw (in their partial listing) more than a dozen "jazz" concerts I would pay to see over the course of the next week.

In Dallas, on the other hand, jazz does smell pretty bad.

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I used to work for an orchestra, and they always had these same discussions about symphonic music's relevance to a community. Many cited the rise of composers in academia as the death blow, because composers were paid to teach and could consequently write whatever the hell they wanted, regardless of who liked it. Some musicians went as far as to claim that John Williams is truly this era's great symphonic composer, because he writes symphonic music that people want to hear. (Don't shoot the messenger).

Now that we have 100+ years of recorded history in a variety of media, jazz and all other art forms are competing against their own histories. I may be blown away by a few local jazz artists in my community, but given the choice, I'll probably pick up a classic Blue Note session on a used CD for short dough rather than support these artists. I am a part of the problem in this regard, but that's the way it is and I can't be that unusual.

I don't think we will ever solve the issue of determining the ideal ratios between the size of an art form's audience and that of the general population. Because people can experience jazz now through various media, often for free, I don't even know if we can truly determine its audience size.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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I agree with Dan and T the K . Jazz as performance music peaked in the '50's and '60's and, as popular entertainment, in the '30's and '40's. To dispute this is to ignore reality. That being the case, the fact that the "base" is withering should surprise no one. Further, it's foolish to believe that jazz can exist anyplace but on the periphery in the age of throwaway pop, video gaming and short attention spans. As always, a handful of folks will find their way to the music for one reason or another, but, in the great scheme of things, the number of those who embrace jazz will remain microscopic. I don't think the music will ever die, but it's going to spend most of its time on life support. Does that make things any different than they have been for the last 20 to 30 years? I don't think so.

Up over and out.

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What I can't understand is the continued success of jazz programs in colleges and universities. In such an environment, what are they preparing these future jazz musicians for? Get people prepared for careers as music teachers for a new generation of future music teachers?

Maybe Free can explain what his music program teaches and what his students have to look forward to.

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A response to Teachout's piece from a friend of my age who once was a very good amatuer drummer (he played in a band with bassist Cameron Brown in college):

I quickly read that Teachout article and it seems way off to me,

starting with its statistics. The audience for everything is

shrinking -- that's what audiences are doing in the 21st century as

available options multiply and attention spans wither. I don't

believe that, in 2002, 10% of adult Americans attended at least one

jazz performance -- I just don't believe it. My guess is, the figure

would be closer to 1% or 2%. And what was the percentage back in 1961

or '62 -- 5%? Teachout's thing about jazz evolving from a genuinely

popular song-based idiom into challenging concert music is the same

point that Ken Burns "Jazz" tried to make, and it didn't seem relevant

to me; nobody's dancing to anything but rock 'n roll, which certainly

isn't the fault of jazz.

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Jazz as performance music peaked in the '50's and '60's and, as popular entertainment, in the '30's and '40's. To dispute this is to ignore reality.

Teachout's thing about jazz evolving from a genuinely

popular song-based idiom into challenging concert music is the same

point that Ken Burns "Jazz" tried to make, and it didn't seem relevant

to me; nobody's dancing to anything but rock 'n roll, which certainly

isn't the fault of jazz.

Strange, though ...

... throughout the 90s (and apparently still today in certain places) that Neo-Swing movement (call it a fad if you want, I wouldn't mind...) was on the verge of (and often succeeded in) turning back the clock to presenting an updated form of a thoroughly danceable style of jazz that actually had the people dancing again in comparatively huge numbers.

And what happened? Stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz.

OK, so some of those bands sailing under the "Neo-swing" flag were extremely mediocre and their jazz/swing/improvisational credentials slim, but others were/are quite accomplished and actually swing like mad and IMHO manage to push the stylistic boundaries of swing into a new direction by incorporating other influences and adding a new twist to the music yet still remaining true to the core of that style of jazz. And lest anybody accuses them of being just copycats: Are you THAT sure that all those "post-bop" artists (a style commonly considered "true" jazz by ANY standard) are that much beyond copycat status when compared closely to their "hard bop" sources?

Maybe those who bemoan the death of jazz ought to consider for a minute why any "acceptable" evolution of jazz has to proceed in a linear fashion only - towards new and newer things that ultimately become so "far out" that you just HAVE to lose most of your audience. Couldn't it be that some evolution might also occur SIDEWAYS (as in the case of neo-swing as a sideways offshoot of big band swing/jump blues etc.)?

N.B. - Not that I would want to tout those "Neo-Swing" bands as THE saviors of jazz but some of those bands WOULD have offered a way of getting new listeners immediately very close to jazz again. But then again at times some jazz fans seem to be their own worst enemies when it comes to furthering their OWN causes ... ;)

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nobody's dancing to anything but rock 'n roll

Um, there are more kinds of dance music than that, I think, even if you only include the U.S.A. And I should know, I used to be a good amateur musician...

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Strange, though ...

... throughout the 90s (and apparently still today in certain places) that Neo-Swing movement (call it a fad if you want, I wouldn't mind...) was on the verge of (and often succeeded in) turning back the clock to presenting an updated form of a thoroughly danceable style of jazz that actually had the people dancing again in comparatively huge numbers.

And what happened? Stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz.

Ah, yes, the Squirrel-Nut Rabbis. You really think that those Neo-Swing bands were on the verge of successfully "turning back the clock" in some long-term manner but failed to do so because of "stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz? It was, as you say, a more or less amiable fad, and when it had its day with one segment of the young dancing crowd, that was that. The objections of curmedgeons like myself was to those who proclaimed this stuff to be the music's artistic salvation, and I can't believe that one single dancer, booker, or club owner was deterred by what we had to say, assuming they were even aware of it. Those acts got gigs when they drew and didn't when things cooled down. Shades of Andrew Dice Clay.

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Strange, though ...

... throughout the 90s (and apparently still today in certain places) that Neo-Swing movement (call it a fad if you want, I wouldn't mind...) was on the verge of (and often succeeded in) turning back the clock to presenting an updated form of a thoroughly danceable style of jazz that actually had the people dancing again in comparatively huge numbers.

And what happened? Stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz.

Ah, yes, the Squirrel-Nut Rabbis. You really think that those Neo-Swing bands were on the verge of successfully "turning back the clock" in some long-term manner but failed to do so because of "stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz? It was, as you say, a more or less amiable fad, and when it had its day with one segment of the young dancing crowd, that was that. The objections of curmedgeons like myself was to those who proclaimed this stuff to be the music's artistic salvation, and I can't believe that one single dancer, booker, or club owner was deterred by what we had to say, assuming they were even aware of it. Those acts got gigs when they drew and didn't when things cooled down. Shades of Andrew Dice Clay.

(Aside from the swing dancing thing) Man, there is no dichotomy between creativity and entertainment (as Pops and Gillespie and other giants have proved countless times) and many gulfs between art and the listener created by the artist him or herself. When things fuck up we have to look in the mirror----with the intention of fixing things. A lot of the audience shrinkage has been due to players so taken with themselves and their 'cleverness' that they think they do people a favor by showing up. If you don't care if people come or not, IMO do us all a favor and stay home. It's up to all of us musicians to get the audience back by starting out by saying hello at least and not having our heads up our asses the whole gig and ignoring paying customers whose pleasure is at least as important as ours.

Don't misunderstand: I'm not advocating anyone changing their playing content(I do think music that's more cerebral than communicating emotion is gonna have a tougher time as a performing art----but one should still do it if that's what one is----just don't expect people to love you if you're not playing their lives as much as your own interior life) or play down to people----b/c they can smell that, too----but to play to them. I'm not telling anyone to mug or Tom or whatever else you want to call it (I like being a comedian myself, but playing more). But we have to get people on our side to want to like what we do, and it costs nothing to say hello, at least that.

I think the air started going out of the balloon after bebop, the generation of imitators of Bird (many whom were excellent players) who took on a 'hip' attitude their heros never seemed to have in reality. Also the advent of LPs, allowing longer solo space was contemporaneous with more of a focus on the soloist and longer solos, and let's face it, not everyone is all that interesting playing long.

I don't claim to have the answers. For myself I try to play as serious jazz I know how, and put on a good show---in a dignified, non-hammy way. All I know is that we had better take responsibilty to get the audience back ourselves----whatever it takes, within reason----and not wait for trends to change or Godot, Jesus, or Schneerson to save our asses. Look in the mirror, change what's wrong, accept what can't be changed.

Edited by fasstrack

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Ah, yes, the Squirrel-Nut Rabbis. You really think that those Neo-Swing bands were on the verge of successfully "turning back the clock" in some long-term manner but failed to do so because of "stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only "keepers of the flame" of jazz? It was, as you say, a more or less amiable fad, and when it had its day with one segment of the young dancing crowd, that was that. The objections of curmedgeons like myself was to those who proclaimed this stuff to be the music's artistic salvation, and I can't believe that one single dancer, booker, or club owner was deterred by what we had to say, assuming they were even aware of it. Those acts got gigs when they drew and didn't when things cooled down. Shades of Andrew Dice Clay.

That's only part of the story.

I wouldn't know about run of the mill Joe Ordinaries who otherwise would only listen to hit parade fare and who'd catch those bands on one of their club nights but I can tell you one thing - both from what I've witnessed here and from what those in the same subculture over in the States have witnessed and reported there: Those bands did manage to hip quite a few from the rockabilly/50s r'n'r/garage rock/punk rock scene to give a second listen not only to the Brian Setzer Orchestra (that might have rung a bell with them from the Stray Cats days) but also to the more swinging and musically more developed bands such as the Bill Elliott Orchestra, Royal Crown Revue and a host of others - which eventually led them to discover the originals (not only Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan or lounge acts but also the Duke, the Count, etc. etc.) and thus to widen their musical horizons in a durable manner. Not a mean feat IMO in the atomized and fragmented "popular" (non-classical) music scene of today ...

... that is - not a mean feat unless you insist on acknowledging something new in jazz only if it is more complex, more involved and otherwise much more "elaborate" than what came along before it and if is taken in only in the most aloof and "brainy" manner possible. But isn't this bound to get you either far out on a limb that will eventually snap or in some dead end where the listeners just don't care to follow?

As for "artistic" saving (a related aspect), I wouldn't go so far as to claim that but please tell me - what is wrong with accomplishing the goals of providing swinging and improvised music that goes straight to the GUTS of the audience even if the musical means employed to this end are a bit simpler (without DILUTING the essence) than they technically could be? This used to be a valid goal of jazz but seemingly it continues to be frowned upon in some circles to this day.

Again - I won't claim that this offshoot of swing is the ultimate among any possible evolutionary routes of jazz.

It is just ONE of many possible routes (note that IMHO "smooth jazz" isn't one but that's another story ;)) but one that is not to be condemned outright - not least of all because IMO those neo-swing bands who managed to turn their listeners on to Calloway, Jordan, the Count, the Duke and others did MUCH more to publicise the ESSENCE of jazz than those crossover or jazz-rock acts of the McLaughlin etc. era of the 70s who brought along a host of so-called jazz listeners who'd only ever accept jazz-rock as any form of jazz at all and who'd never ever look beyond Electric Miles jazzwise and in general only to jazz rock acts that were more rock than jazz. Those jazz-rock fans got just a wee little glimpse of jazz and certainly not of the essence of jazz (having come of jazz listening and collecting age in those 70s I can tell you I encountered a LOT of those dudes! ;)).

And I still wonder if this jazz-rock meltdown that's been going on for close to 40 years isn't one of the reasons why contemporary jazz (over here, anyway) really is losing its stylistic focus. In the States you may still be in for real treats when jazz festivals roll along but the number of all-out rock and pop singers that are called in to perform at JAZZ festivals (billled as such) over HERE can only make you wince. ANY of those better neo-swing bands on the bill of such a festival would be FAR closer to the CORE of jazz than any of those rock and pop singers - and IMO they would thus be better suited to bridging the gap towards jazz (that is, if your ears are open to jazz that clearly PREDATES the stylistic ELECTRIC MILES era).

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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on thing which hasn't been mentioned so far is that by now there's a wealth of electronic music drawn from various sources which i believe has drawn quite a number of those under 40 who like their music sophisticated and possibly instrumental... a third stream so to say next to classical and jazz and maybe with a good deal more hipness at this point... (i know way to little about all this to make this point properly and i've heard little that i liked but this is music which sure doesn't deserve to be bunched together with britney spears)

while i really don't know why i listen to all this myself ( i sure don't see myself as the keeper of any flame or someone doing what everybody should be doing; if i was an artist i'd be ashamed of my lack of sophistication - one of the reasons i didn't become one... maybe i just like the stories...)...

...for most of the jazz fans of my generation i would say they listen to jazz for the wrong reason... many are lazy (not yet quite fat) people who like to listen to diana krall or some quiet piano music with a glass of wine; others are apparently attracted by odd meters (possibly also complicated harmonies) and mostly admire the technical aspects of say al di meola's or victor bailey's music... haven't met particularly many which don't meet one of those two descriptions...

i often wonder how a composer would be regarded who composed symphonies in beethoven's style... looking at what happens in jazz and at how backward-looking classical music is as well i find it odd that these guys don't exist (or do they?)

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I bet (young) people party and at Reptet gigs.

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Big Beat Steve -- But you said that "stabs in the back administered by those who felt themselves to be the true and only 'keepers of the flame' of jazz" did in the neo-Swing movement." Show me one piece of evidence that that is what happened. It was fun or kind of fun, it did some good in spreading the good word (in the ways that you described), and then it kind of went away. Nobody chased it away AFAIK; enough of the people who enjoyed it eventually moved on to other things or were no longer of an age where they had the time and the inclination to go dancing that much. And the next semi-generation of dancers wanted to dance to their thing. Or let me turn that around -- can you think of any comparable movement and/or fad in any form of entertainment of that era that has remained as popular as it once was and that has done so because there were no self-appointed keepers of the flame expressing doubts about it?

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