Dub Modal

Culture War, Young Lions & Trend Manufacturing

41 posts in this topic

Sparked by a comment in the 80s jazz album thread about how the Young Lion "movement" in the 80s was an example of corporate astroturfing (something I tend to agree with as a distinct possibility), and the fact that I don't want to crowd that thread with extraneous discussion, I figured I'd put this here to live or die, and will probably regret doing so but whatever - it's miscellaneous at least. While the focus of the below tweets - note, not my own - is on current musical pop culture, the same concept probably applies to  just about all genres of music published on major labels.

I wasn't into jazz back when the YL's were advertised as saving jazz, and I certainly don't fault most of those artists that were able to cash in, produce records, get gigs and have careers and whatnot, especially if they didn't backstab during the whole process. But the message of "saving jazz," attached to that promotion was indeed phony and manufactured.

At a high level review of trends within jazz and improvisational music since that happened, it seems that there haven't really been any further astroturfing trends that were as aggressive against its own scene as the YL trend was, and that's a good thing. For instance, I don't detect shade being thrown in promo stuff for an artist like Kamasi Washington. His label for The Epic was Brainfreeze, whose ultimate parent is Ninja Tune which reports billions in revenue. 

 

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Were there really marketing efforts that said "saving jazz" or anything like that?

I think the 'saving jazz' story came from Marsalis and Crouch and that there was amplification from people like Feather and a few other critics. But other than the turn to album covers with men in suits, where was the hardcore "saving jazz" marketing?

 

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13 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

I think the 'saving jazz' story came from Marsalis and Crouch and that there was amplification from people like Feather and a few other critics. But other than the turn to album covers with men in suits, where was the hardcore "saving jazz" marketing?

Good question - I would guess that these folks were essentially acting as marketers for the movement. Not so much by way of printed ads, etc. but via periodical columns, interviews, etc. that have messages that get broadcasted further should other major media outlets pick them up. 

Whatever it was, their influence got amplified to the point where they were still a commanding force for the Burns doc...which has been replaying lately. Crouch & Marsalis telling stories about Sidney Bechet just seems like bona fide theater of the absurd to me.

Edited by Dub Modal

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12 minutes ago, Dub Modal said:

 

Whatever it was, their influence got amplified to the point where they were still a commanding force for the Burns doc...

Not sure about this, if Burns just started out with the source of the "saving jazz" argument in leaning on Wynton and Stanley so much.

BTW, out of curiosity I searched "young lion" mentions in the NYT Arts Section, and the earliest hit connected to jazz was this one - from 1983. No "saving jazz" here.

https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/22/arts/perils-confront-the-young-lions-of-jazz.html?searchResultPosition=2

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Dub,

Nate Chinen has some interesting things to say on this topic in his book Playing Changes.  Worth a read, IMO.

Another parallel from another genre: It's no coincidence that Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan were the two most famous conductors of the 2nd half of the 20th century.  Bernstein recorded for Columbia and HvK recorded for DG, the two biggest players in the industry.

IMO, sometimes the musicians that the "media machines" promote are actually interesting and worthwhile.  Sometimes (often?), they are not.  So, I think there is very little (to no) correlation between a musician's celebrity and the quality of their art. 

The funny thing about jazz now... People tend to see it as "so commercially non-viable" that there's very little promotion infrastructure, relatively speaking.  The majors aren't even playing in our sandbox anymore.  Everything in jazz has been "indie-ified." 

In some ways that's good, no?  In other ways, not so much.

 

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As I read that NYT link I sense a "passing of the torch" trope, with a hint of "can they do it? YES! they can" type of victory lap.

Some gems from that link...like how the guys from Miles' SGQ sold out first before coming back to the real stuff - and guess who was there: 

" So one by one, Mr. Shorter, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Williams, and many of their associates abandoned the poised, exceptionally creative smallgroup improvising that had occupied them for the better part of a decade...and the music being made by most of Mr. Davis's ex-sidemen was becoming increasingly formulaic and predictable..."

But then:

" Whenever they temporarily abandoned their presumably more lucrative commercial careers to play the sort of jazz that had originally made them famous, it was an event. .. Mr. Shorter, Mr. Williams and Mr. Hancock, along with their contemporaries Charlie Haden and Bobby Hutcherson, play in varying combinations on three of the album's four sides, along with the much younger trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and they play brilliantly. The music is freer and more adventurous than much of what they played on the Blue Note albums of the mid-1960's.."

" In a sense, the Young Lions of the 1980's are finishing the work the Lions of the 1960's began, mediating between the jazz tradition and the latest innovations... Their task is to make room in the jazz mainstream for all this input, and they seem determined to do so without sacrificing the swing or the blues-derived expressive devices of the older jazz forms."

So it's not overt, but the saving jazz does seem to be there. 

6 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Dub,

Nate Chinen has some interesting things to say on this topic in his book Playing Changes.  Worth a read, IMO.

Another parallel from another genre: It's no coincidence that Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan were the two most famous conductors of the 2nd half of the 20th century.  Bernstein recorded for Columbia and HvK recorded for DG, the two biggest players in the industry.

IMO, sometimes the musicians that the "media machines" promote are actually interesting and worthwhile.  Sometimes (often?), they are not.  So, I think there is very little (to no) correlation between a musician's celebrity and the quality of their art. 

The funny thing about jazz now... People tend to see it as "so commercially non-viable" that there's very little promotion infrastructure, relatively speaking.  The majors aren't even playing in our sandbox anymore.  Everything in jazz has been "indie-ified." 

In some ways that's good, no?  In other ways, not so much.

 

Thank you. Will check out the Chinen book...and I agree with you that sometimes these promoted artists are worthy, and maybe more often not. 

One thing about that indie label stuff though, always look to see who the parent company is. I had no idea that Ninja Tune Inc. was doing billions in business. Of course, jazz and other niche markets are only pieces of that music catalog, but the fact they put this stuff out means it makes them money. Which means there's some commercial viability, especially if these albums become modern classics and can eventually be shifted to legacy products and mined for reissues etc. 

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12 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

Were there really marketing efforts that said "saving jazz" or anything like that?

I think the 'saving jazz' story came from Marsalis and Crouch and that there was amplification from people like Feather and a few other critics. But other than the turn to album covers with men in suits, where was the hardcore "saving jazz" marketing?

 

In the sales pitches for the gigs.

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5 minutes ago, JSngry said:

In the sales pitches for the gigs.

"Saving Jazz One Audience at a Time"?

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43 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

"Saving Jazz One Audience at a Time"?

More like grabbing that gig one angle at a time...which is, truthfully, what anybody/everybody does. The problem was that in a lot of cases the angle was less about what "it" was and more about what "it" was NOT. It meant that a lot of lesser talent got in more on the "traditional" angle than on actually being able to play. the higher up you went the less obvious that was, but we're talking the minors here, the farm system. Or, in some cases, the Seniors Tour...

OTOH, none of this would have worked if it wasn't what people wanted. Hardly a new point that this whole thing coincided with a retrenchment of the notion of "progress" in society at large, that at some point all this change left a lot of people just tired of it all, can we just make it stop and return to "traditional vlues".

Well, obviously, yes you can. But as always, the REALLY important question is - "and THEN what?" Maybe personalities get reduced to "types" and "personality" takes a back seat. Jazz becomes something that "sounds like jazz". There's a market, of course, but again, THEN what?

And then....this. Enjoy!

God Save The Underground, WE MEAN IT MAAAAANNN!!!!!

==============================================================================================

Also....let it be noted that these Young Lions discussion pop up every few years, and for me, I think I can summarize it all thusly:

Q: What happened?

A: Nothing happened, and a whole lot of it happened for quite a long time.

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One of the games that used to get played with the "young lions" was to identify the role model of their playing.   Vincent Herring was Cannonball Adderley-ish, Christopher Hollyday was Jackie McLean-ish, Branford Marsalis just made his Sonny Rollins-ish  trio album, etc.   Not exactly a forward-thinking approach.    

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35 minutes ago, felser said:

One of the games that used to get played with the "young lions" was to identify the role model of their playing.   Vincent Herring was Cannonball Adderley-ish, Christopher Hollyday was Jackie McLean-ish, Branford Marsalis just made his Sonny Rollins-ish  trio album, etc.   Not exactly a forward-thinking approach.    

OTOH, players have been put into a lineage since originators were followed by those they inspired.

The whole thing really was that few (or really none) got recording contracts for having Ornette, late-period Trane, or Miles post-1967 as direct role models. 

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33 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

The whole thing really was that few (or really none) got recording contracts for having Ornette, late-period Trane, or Miles post-1967 as direct role models. 

Well, not for a while anyway...

These days, who gets contracts? (Thanks to the labels that still do that, Pi, Savant, HighNote, Blue Note, a few others, notably NOT Columbia...))

But about, what, 10-15 years ago? The musics you mention kind of started popping up more regularly among "mainstream" players. Today, nobody raises an eyebrow about people playing Ornette tunes (or using Ornette's basic techniques in their improvisation), electric Miles, or, really, late Trane (although the presentation is usually codified a bit). It's just normal now, all of it.

So the attempted freeze ultimately failed.

The stall, however, succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dreams. Now that things like labels and contracts and wide-scale marketing (and gigs!!!!!) barely exist, all that's left is niche musics for niche markets, and nobody really has to pay attention to anything other than what they know they'll like before they hear it. Speaking for myself, I have to really, really try to find unfamiliar musics, and then having found them, to find some more. One of the disheartening things about all the niches is that ultimately the seem to all stay within themselves. Too damn insular, and ultimately, self-referential for my liking. Cross-pollinations should not be feared. Not saying that they should automatically/indiscriminately, of course not. But at some point, insular becomes incestual, and we all know what that does to the gene pool. be embraced.

Then again, the same thing happened cable. THE OCHO!!!! Ah, the good old days of cable...

Nothing wrong with that, but it's definitely a change.

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I wasn't really around at the time (too busy learning to walk / chew / etc.), but wasn't a lot of the rhetoric weirdly anti-corporate, rather than the other way around?

For example, the quotations from the link in Dub Modal's post above emphasise how Really Real Jazz (TM 1965: Columbia) was artistic and uncommercial, whereas what the Second Quintet sidemen had being doing in the intervening period was selling out. Both came out on Warner / Columbia etc.

Quite how Crossings was meant to be "commercial" but J Mood was "authentic" escapes me. But that's called marketing, I guess.

Edited by Rabshakeh

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When people want change, you sell them change. When they want stoppage, you sell them stoppage. When they want records, you sell them records. When they don't want records, you sell them downloads. When they want records again, you sell them LPs. And when they don't want music anymore, you sit on your holdings and wait for a licensing deal for a movie or a commercial.

Selling music, though...it's about selling first, music second. And if people don't want music, no problem. There's always something else to sell.

The exceptions, the people who want to make and sell music because they want music, period. Those are the angels of this world. Everybody else....business people.

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32 minutes ago, Rabshakeh said:

For example, the quotations from the link in Dub Modal's post above emphasise how Really Real Jazz (TM 1965: Columbia) was artistic and uncommercial, whereas what the Second Quintet sidemen had being doing in the intervening period was selling out. Both came out on Warner / Columbia etc.

Quite how Crossings was meant to be "commercial" but J Mood was "authentic" escapes me. But that's called marketing, I guess.

Exactly. Create a strawman or scapegoat a baddie and clothe your savior(s) in righteousness against this evil force. No matter if it's all BS, so long as the reader and listener believe that it's true, or truthy, that's all that matters. 

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I guess that the X factor is getting the public to believe it, though. Music history is full of failed marketing campaigns and squandered budgets.

For some reason the audience in the early 80s really was receptive and was willing to be sold a story of acoustic swinging jazz messiahs redeeming jazz from the pit of fusion and avant garde. The fact that it was the same major labels, same artists (sometimes), same execs (George Butler etc.) behind it all troubled noone. Mainstream jazz audiences in the '80s wanted tradition and quality, I suppose. Or at least, they wanted something that looked like tradition and quality. 

I think it's probably worth remembering though that those same labels/execs had just (I think) had their fingers singed on a first attempt, with records like Lenox Avenue Breakdown etc. All Columbia's marketing didn't shift that record, even though I suspect most members of this board would regard that album as rather heavier in both tradition and quality than anything in the catalogue of the Brothers Marsalisov.

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And yet Future Shock sold 50 Bajillion copies.

There were "Jazz Is Back!!!" media blitzes several times in the 70s, and they were all relatively true. "Saving" jazz, though, that type of retrovision was not nearly as much about expanding an audience as it was locking one in. Or up, if you like.

One can maybe blame VSOP. If THEY needed a break from all the electricity and such, maybe everybody else did too.

Except for them, it was a break. They all got back to their regular lives, but...there was a market for people who ONLY did that. The ability to wrap it all in the flag of Real Jazz, hey, flag-wrapping was all the rage then. So...young faces, outspoken attitudes, next thing you know, money locked down in such a way that an audience is not needed, patrons are where it's at, and oh, btw - "education" too. Teach them what to think and then reward them when they think it. Reward them with another tooth in your cog. 

America's True Art Form indeed!

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Oh, one more consideration - there was a very real worry that young black people were either not coming along to play jazz at all, or if they were, they were not playing it well (or even worse, not playing "real" jazz.

I am not going to weigh in on that one, because it was a very emotional and complicated situation, at once a deep-rooted cultural anxiety and a basic generational/evolutionary clash. Maybe you had to be there, and although I was "in the room" for a lot of it, I was never in the actual conversation. It was not mine to have. Just being allowed to "eavesdrop" was more than enough to make me aware of just how deep it ran.

I think it's safe to say that a lot of people were pulling for it all to work out, that these young guys would take root and grow as musicians, not to replace/eradicate the changes, but keep a viably broad palate alive and well. Hell, I could still go hear a lot of 50-somethings DEAL, and the idea of that energy and spirit disappearing was just.. sad.

But for every Shelley Carroll or James Carter, there's 50,000,000 Elvis fans, and yes, they CAN be wrong. Even if they're jazz players. ESPECIALLY if they're jazz players. 

 

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9 hours ago, Dan Gould said:

OTOH, players have been put into a lineage since originators were followed by those they inspired.

Didn't Leonard Feather once even write in some liner notes (Giant Steps?) that Coltrane was a "student of Rollins" (figuratively speaking)? 

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I'm generally just glad those sorts of polemics are past. Whilst some of the various attitudes linger, the jazz world seems in the last ten years to have finally worked its way through those early 80s talking points. Certainly the new crop of musicians and whoever is backing them seem to be prepared to get more interesting work out there to the audiences.

From my perspective, the one task that is left for the present (at least as regards the Young Lions' legacy) is the re-evaluation and promotion of the music of the losers to the Young Lions trend.

The discussion on and media representation of jazz in the 80s and 90s (including informal media, like blogs) still leans heavily on the value or lack thereof of Marsalis's music. There is occasional reference to those artists from a few limited sets that, for whatever reason, proved categorisable and so saleable in spite of the marketing onslaught (e.g., Zorn & Co, Metheny, M Base, Vision Fest, Jaco), but that's basically it.

The records made by non-mainstream or even perfectly mainstream artists who fell on the wrong side of the polemics are still not re-issued or explored and remain largely unavailable or a matter of insider knowledge (I'm thinking of Lester Bowie solo, Thomas Chapin, Geri Allen, 80s / early 90s Braxton, etc.).

I would love to see an upspring of interest in rediscovering and promoting the back catalogues of such artists, similar to the recent re-evaluations of other "jazz genres", labels or periods like Black Jazz, Blue Note's "rare groove" or "outside" periods, Strata-East/"spiritual jazz" or, long before them, Blue Note's late 60s post-bop catalogue.

Until then, the musicians on the wrong side of the Young Lion marketing campaign are still just getting passed over by anyone who wasn't there at the time. It is as much of a dead zone for the Average Intelligent Hip Young Jazz Consumer as soul jazz or 70s indie label bop, which we talk about a lot on this board. 

With jazz doing quite well in sales terms (relatively) and getting more column inches than I ever remember, it feels like now would be a good time for this to happen.

All that said, I would still love it if there were a book that compiled the main articles, speeches and liner notes in each installment of the "Jazz Wars". It's one of the subjects that remains most discussed, but the actual statements comprising the subject were by their nature ephemeral. I hate speaking from hearsay.

Edited by Rabshakeh

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6 hours ago, JSngry said:

Oh, one more consideration - there was a very real worry that young black people were either not coming along to play jazz at all, or if they were, they were not playing it well (or even worse, not playing "real" jazz.

I am not going to weigh in on that one, because it was a very emotional and complicated situation, at once a deep-rooted cultural anxiety and a basic generational/evolutionary clash. Maybe you had to be there, and although I was "in the room" for a lot of it, I was never in the actual conversation. It was not mine to have. Just being allowed to "eavesdrop" was more than enough to make me aware of just how deep it ran.

I think it's safe to say that a lot of people were pulling for it all to work out, that these young guys would take root and grow as musicians, not to replace/eradicate the changes, but keep a viably broad palate alive and well. 

From reading backwards, it seems like this was a concern right through to the mid-sixties, and was itself one of the reasons for the musicians' embrace of fusion, before it became a reason for the embrace of neo-traditionalism. 

I have no idea whether any of these developments actually succeeded in recapturing the imagination of their intended audience though. 

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It's hard to keep a neighborhood music when the neighborhood gets gentrified, or otherwise destroyed. Or even when the old people die and their kids take over.

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7 hours ago, Rabshakeh said:

I would love to see an upspring of interest in rediscovering and promoting the back catalogues of such artists, similar to the recent re-evaluations of other "jazz genres", labels or periods like Black Jazz, Blue Note's "rare groove" or "outside" periods, Strata-East/"spiritual jazz" or, long before them, Blue Note's late 60s post-bop catalogue.

Until then, the musicians on the wrong side of the Young Lion marketing campaign are still just getting passed over by anyone who wasn't there at the time. It is as much of a dead zone for the Average Intelligent Hip Young Jazz Consumer as soul jazz or 70s indie label bop, which we talk about a lot on this board. 

With jazz doing quite well in sales terms (relatively) and getting more column inches than I ever remember, it feels like now would be a good time for this to happen.

All that said, I would still love it if there were a book that compiled the main articles, speeches and liner notes in each installment of the "Jazz Wars". It's one of the subjects that remains most discussed, but the actual statements comprising the subject were by their nature ephemeral. I hate speaking from hearsay.

I'd love to see that revival as well, along with said book. 

In the meantime if you read any modern day interview with Branford, you'll see he continues to throw shade on current jazz musicians in some weird effort to continue this jazz war. Or hilariously bad mouth Blue Note recordings in favor of Prestige because those were recorded better, and that because he's an audiophile he notices this. Said book that compiles the Jazz War articles might should just give a whole chapter to this guy as an example of a modern day windmill tilter. 

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And Branford used to be the fun one of the two!

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Who could forget his turn in Mo' Better Blues? Bring back fun Branford is all I'm saying. 

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