Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The present and future of jazz

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Very interesting post on the More Intelligent Life blog by Gary Moskowitz:

Long before we debated what real punk-rock was, what true hip-hop was, or what made indie-rock authentic, jazz heads grappled with what is and isn’t jazz music. Now, the debate is whether jazz is dying off or not.

Not long ago Jae Sinnet, a jazz drummer, composer, educator and radio personality, told NPR that jazz is dying because people are falling out of love with it. Hip-hop, Sinnet says, stole jazz’s thunder. He also blamed club owners for removing pianos from their venues to save space over the years.

Sinnet’s claims are not unfounded. The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout reported in August that the audience for America’s great art form was withering away, based on data in the latest survey of public participation in the arts. According to the report, America’s jazz audience is not only shrinking, it’s aging. Attendance at jazz performances has dropped 30% since 2002. The median age of concert patrons in 2008 was 46; in 1982 it was 29.

These numbers bear out anecdotally. I have a hell of a time convincing friends to go to jazz shows with me, so I tend to go alone. And I often feel like I’m one of the youngest people in the room, even though I’m in my 30s.

Teachout said the problem is that most Americans see jazz as a form of high art. Sinnet confirmed that “the masses don’t understand the music,” largely because there are fewer places to hear it. Getting “these kids” to “realise [jazz] is something worth their time is difficult because they don’t hear it on TV or MTV.” The word “jazz” itself has even become sandbagged with lofty associations (Time Out London goes so far as to call it the “J Bomb”).

Perhaps jazz simply needs to be rebranded, recharacterised as music that can speak for people again (even frustrated youth). Quite a few new bands are revitalising the form in exciting ways, mixing elements of jazz (theory, improvisation, culture and composition) with other styles to create music that is often hard to label or categorise.

Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, a jazz ensemble formed in Seattle in 2002, often refers to their music as “punk jazz”. But their songs, such as their thunderous version of Charles Mingus’s “Moanin”, have much more to do with Thelonious Monk than with Darby Crash. (Disclosure: I once played in a side project with the group’s drummer). Then there’s Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, which is more marching band than jazz band, like instrumental hip-hop. (Members are sons of Kelan Phil Cohran, a jazz-man who played with the Sun Ra Arkestra.) Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker claimed that the band has “absorbed the biggest electronic music of the last century (hip-hop), filtered it through America’s century-old classic music (jazz), and made it portable.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2009 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music

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