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mjzee

Can Jazz Be Saved?

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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.

:huh: So what have I been doing with my life all these years? Guess it's time to sell the kit and move to Florida.

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frankly, my eyes started to glaze over about 2 pages into this. Articles like that are absolute bullshit. what constitutes going and seeing jazz? I guarantee you that joe jazz reporter didn't go into the eclectic clubs that play a little bit of everything or the rock clubs that are willing to give a jazz band with an attitude and a draw a chance. So, already, the numbers are skewed. They don't take into account the fact that there are bands out there that realize that playing to a bunch of grumpy guys in sportcoats and turtlenecks trying to impress tha ladiez is a dead end street. And guess what? I've seen a lot of those bands sell out clubs on a fairly regular basis.

Jazz, as an art form dedicated to keeping Blue Note's re-issue program in business for another 100 years, is dying a quick death, and I have no interest in going to the funeral. However, as an improvisational artform that lives, breathes and learns from the culture(s) around it, I don't see it going anywhere. As long as there's an audience that wants to hear music with a little more depth, there will be musicians eager to provide it.

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:huh: So what have I been doing with my life all these years? Guess it's time to sell the kit and move to Florida.

C'mon down, but bring the kit!

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Being a musician, I am, of course, biased but the good news is that I do believe jazz can be saved. The bad news is, I doubt that it will. The art of melodic improvisation flourished when it was part of the popular music of the '20's through the big band era. Kids who were buying records could relate to it physically through dancing. In order to awaken the public's atrophied ears to our beloved art form, that connection would have to be reestablished. A golden opportunity was missed during the GAP commercial inspired mini swing craze of the mid to late '90's. It got young people swing dancing. The craze ended because, not suprisingly, people became bored with the music even though the players wore funny hats and twirled their instruments and made every effort to be visually entertaining. Why?

Maybe we should be a little scientific about this. Not rocket science, mind you, because we are talking about entertainment here. Back in the '70's, when dance clubs still hired bands (before DJs took over completely) I had an epiphany of sorts while taking a guitar solo with my "funk" band. The dance floor was full but I realized that my solo could be good, bad, or mediocre and it really would not make much of a difference to the dancers. That was because they were dancing to the symmetrical back beats on 2 and 4 of the measure. As Dick Clark's studio audiences on American Band Stand repeatedly informed us - it is a good beat and it is easy to dance to (sic).

I once saw a film of the Benny Goodman band where the camera was looking down on a crowded dance floor from a balcony. As Goodman built his clarinet solo to a climax, you could see the dancers jumping higher into the air. They were driven by Gene Krupa's quarter notes on the bass drum and loud, propulsive, asymmetrical hits on the snare, but people were essentially dancing to the improvised melody. The drumming of Joe Jones with the Basie band is another example of asymmetrical back beats. Unfortunately, none of the swing acts that achieved notoriety during the '90's (Big, Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer et al...) picked up on this. The shuffle got old real fast. Strong back beats propel the dancers but a steady 2 and 4 disengages them from the melody.

Forget jazz and history and zoot suits for a minute and break it down to the sonic essentials of what makes people dance and there may be a glimmer of hope for a fusion with melodic improvisation. Whether people are dancing to Rihanna or Basie, we know that they like it around 120 beats per minute. What they are dancing to is the quarter note pulse. You can easily take any contemporary dance track, strip away everything but the bass drum, and superimpose Satin Doll. The only difference is that the rhythm of the modern (unimprovised) melodic content is usually defined with straight eighths and sixteenth notes instead of swing eighths.

At this point, you may ask - "who cares?" Well, we do, obviously and the marketing and promotional geniuses have not been able to prevent America's only original art form from going down the tubes. Could it be that the music itself needs to be dealt with? It didn't mean a thing without that swing because that was the feeling that connected the dancer and the melodic improvisor. New music can be created with that feeling that connects with today's dancers but it won't swing for long unless the crutch of the symmetrical back beat is avoided.

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problem is, if dance was the criteria, we wouldn't have most of the new music of the last 50 years -

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Jazz is bigger than any of the people who are worried about it dying.

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New music can be created with that feeling that connects with today's dancers but it won't swing for long unless the crutch of the symmetrical back beat is avoided.

Broken beat. It's there. It swings like a mofo. And it's definitely asymmetrical.

problem is, if dance was the criteria, we wouldn't have most of the new music of the last 50 years -

"Dance" is so much deeper than teenagers and discos.

Cecil dances, Ornette dances, Ayler freakin' FLEW, which is perhaps the ultimate dance...Roscoe dances, Braxton dances...

The retro cats, otoh, did/do not dance (for the most part). They statufied. At best, they animatronicized.

The problem is not "dancing" - the problem is people being so fucked up that they can't/won't feel dance, not just in their music, but in the rhythms of their lives. The real dance, the one that is there whether you want it to be there or not.

I don't know where Lucian's parameters are, but in my mind, people who deny (or worse, seek to marginalize and stifle) the dance impulse are the real terrorists, the real weapons of mass destruction. Let's take them out.

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Nice thread - sorry I missed it when it was ongoing. Almost everyone said their usual piece, which was nice. One or two learned a little thing or two. And TTK... wrote the post of the year.

MG

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And TTK... wrote the post of the year.

What did I say? I don't have the patience to re-read 18 pages!

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I vote for "Oh, Christ, I accidentally killed jazz." :g

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nobody's dancing to anything but rock 'n roll

That is definitely not true. Rock 'n' Roll barely even exists today. We dance to house and pop, sometimes with a house beat, usually referred to as "dance". Also, although I detest them, "r & b" and hiphop.

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Why do horn players have trouble playing in the key of E?

Why do piano players get upset when I call rhythm changes in Ab

Lol, I will play in E for you, Allen! Early in my alto days, I mainly played with guitarists, and E is the only key they know. On the alto, concert E is C#, and I had to learn to play in that key in a hurry. (Hee hee, try asking a guitarist to play in Ab. Cover your ears as you ask.)

Seriously, though, what pianist can't play in Ab??

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New music can be created with that feeling that connects with today's dancers but it won't swing for long unless the crutch of the symmetrical back beat is avoided.

Broken beat. It's there. It swings like a mofo. And it's definitely asymmetrical.

problem is, if dance was the criteria, we wouldn't have most of the new music of the last 50 years -

"Dance" is so much deeper than teenagers and discos.

Cecil dances, Ornette dances, Ayler freakin' FLEW, which is perhaps the ultimate dance...Roscoe dances, Braxton dances...

The retro cats, otoh, did/do not dance (for the most part). They statufied. At best, they animatronicized.

The problem is not "dancing" - the problem is people being so fucked up that they can't/won't feel dance, not just in their music, but in the rhythms of their lives. The real dance, the one that is there whether you want it to be there or not.

I don't know where Lucian's parameters are, but in my mind, people who deny (or worse, seek to marginalize and stifle) the dance impulse are the real terrorists, the real weapons of mass destruction. Let's take them out.

-My parameters are the timely imperative posed by Terry Teachout: that musicians (not journalists) need to somehow figure out a way to make melodic improvisation popular again. Lighten up, dude - and please don't "take me out". Unless it's to the ball game!

Edited by Lucian Williams

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Uh, I was agreeing with you...should I not do that?

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That's an excellent post, Lucian. You nailed it. People do like the tempo to be in the 120s. After a lot of experience with house, I tend to favor about 126 BPM.

I deeply love jazz, but I don't go anywhere now to listen to or play it. That's because (as has been mentioned) there are virtually no young people there. Most jazz fans today that I have met are grumpy old farts that I don't want to hang with.

That's one reason why I got into house. It is not only awesome to listen to and mix, but it is very popular. I think the house family of music is today's cutting edge, for all types of music. Two things I like about it are that it usually swings like crazy, and that it has influences from a lot of jazz and Latino music - for example, the rhythm is often a samba (though the young 'uns are unaware of that). Also, you will often hear a jazz solo, e.g. sax. As an example of that, check out Funkagenda's mix of "The Man With The Red Face", which has a scorching alto solo, as well as a real groovy bass vamp.

So, we can sit at home, or in a dirty tavern and fret about jazz, or we can go out and have a good time - and, maybe, pull at the same time (or, at least, socialize with some lovely people).

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An interesting point, and one that had occurred to me already:-

A Serbian house producer called Gramophonedzie has done a remix of Peggy Lee singing "Why Don't You Do Right" with the Benny Goodman orchestra, from 1942. It's called "Why Don't You?" It has two breakdowns where you just hear Peggy and the orchestra, with Fox Trot rhythm at the same speed as the electro section - 125 BPM or so. It goes over great with the young dancers. Google it and give it a listen.

There is a lot of scope for the use of portions of jazz tracks in this way. It's just waiting for someone who knows jazz to do it. Also, sound bites of live intruments can be recorded and mixed in.

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Fascinating piece John. Thanks for the link.

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yikes, John, that's one of the best things I've ever read on the whole question of this music and what the hell should be done with it. You're confirming my recent conclusion that the best critics we have are the least prolific, at least in terms of number of words produced and published - because unlike a lot of the word-a-minute journalists among them they take the time to actually listen and think. Thanks for that.

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Umbrella Fest is next week, with mostly younger musicians. I'll count the ratio of gray hairs to younger folks in the audience.

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