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The Know-Nothings of Jazz

The Know-Nothings of Jazz

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Photo by Rob Gallop (via Flickr)

Before there was hipster culture, there was hip culture. Dedicated to creative thinking and an insolent attitude towards the Establishment—The Man—hip culture came out of jazz and the music’s fans, especially once bebop hit the scene and pushed jazz fully into the aesthetics of art music.

Hip culture used to matter to The Establishment. Literate people used to have at least a few contemporary jazz LPs in their collection. It’s no fantasy that Don Draper is constantly chasing hip young ideas on Mad Men: Steve Allen used to host a TV show on NBC, Thelonious Monk appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, Miles Davis was a paragon of intellectual and sartorial fashion, and Whitney Balliett started writing about jazz for The New Yorker in 1954.

Now we have hipster culture, where money is the aesthetic and coolness is signified by what one buys and sells, and collecting objects has been aestheticized as curating. The Man has commodified and co-opted hipness, and in the 21st century there has been little more than a handful of critical pieces on jazz published in The New Yorker. But they do have regular articles on shopping!

The most recent bit of writing on jazz in the magazine (other than limited, unsurprising listings in the “Goings on About Town” section), was this smug, infantile boorishness on Sonny Rollins, from Django Gold.

It was harmless in and of itself; too many fans and critics allowed it to hurt their feelings. Like raised voices in a bar, their remonstrations brought forth the loud and meaningless opinions of Justin Moyer in The Washington Post. While Gold was trying to be funny (it needed explanation, never a good thing in comedy), Moyer, apparently sober, was full of explanations for what is wrong with jazz. It came off like backseat driving from a blind man.

Moyer’s piece is so breathtakingly wrong that many readers thought it was some kind of hoax. Amazingly, John Halle, who should know better, came to Moyer’s defense and added his own condemnation of jazz in Jacobin magazine.

How is it that ignorant, incompetent drivel like this gets published? Contrary to Halle’s sniffing, jazz is indeed an enduring counter-cultural art form, because it’s so deep underground that editors somehow imagine that these writers have something interesting and worthwhile to say about the music. They do not.

Editors in the cultural pages of general interest publications (or even specialty ones), are the gatekeepers, letting in what they feel is valuable and sharing it with the public. These editors are sharing nothing but their obtuseness.

The New Yorker is particularly puzzling, even shameful. With Alex Ross and Sasha Frere-Jones at the back of the book, they regularly seek what’s relevant in classical and pop music. Nothing for jazz. Yet the jazz scene is full of musicians working with the entire context of contemporary music and pushing jazz into new territory. This is vital in terms of contemporary classical music, the post-minimal fascination with groove-based forms and structures, but there’s no one at the magazine who is qualified to point out that those elements date back to jazz from the late 1960s.

At The New York Review of Books, there has been one blog post by Seth Colter Walls that comes anywhere near to the state of the music in the 21st century. (Its subject was the Sun Ra Arkestra’s debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2013.) There are occasional pieces, written by Christopher Carroll, retrospectives on Charles Mingus, Clifford Brown, and Rollins, that are symptoms of the disease.

Jazz fans are hip; editors and writers at these publications are revanchist, in love with a non-existent, prelapsarian golden age that is different for each. Moyer seems to think jazz stopped “evolving” in 1959, with Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come; Halle is tendentiously ego-centric, pegging the decline of jazz to when it stopped reflecting his political preferences, which, strangely, is when Joe Henderson released a series of albums in the late-’60s/early-’70s; for Carroll, jazz seemed to have stopped with hardbop; and at The New Yorker, it was when Balliett died in 2001.

Of course, jazz has continued to evolve from each of those arbitrary dates (and was never pure to begin with). There is archeological evidence for this, physical artifacts that satisfy every element of proof, things that we aficionados refer to, in our hip argot, as “recordings,” “video,” “ticket stubs.” This century alone has produced path-breaking jazz from Henry Threadgill, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, and so many more.

But few, if any, of these musicians teach and play recitals at colleges and universities, or appear at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Moyer and Halle are specifically revealing of how they think that is where all jazz is happening, which is a sad testament to how each of them has been co-opted by their own institutions, The Washington Post and Bard College respectively. Each is The Man, and each can only see what The Man does. Armchair guides to the jazz world haven’t even made it into the main tourist attractions themselves, much less the indigenous byways.

And The Man is unhip, and has always been. Hipsters blind to what’s hip, they, incredibly, believe that institutional and grant money has made jazz musicians fat and happy, insulated from the creative possibilities of failure—I don’t imagine they would be able to survive on what a jazz musician makes from playing their music.

Instead, it is The Man who preserves failed ideas—like Marxism, and “you kids get off my lawn” editorializing—in his institutions, his publications, colleges, and universities. Institutionalized jazz is safe, museum-piece jazz, but the music still happens in basements and lofts and living room performance spaces. These are the alternative venues and institutions for a music that, by definition, is outsider music, counter-culture music. In the current hegemonic commodification of culture, anything that doesn’t sell is outsider. And music that walks the fine and exceedingly difficult line between pop and art, as jazz has since before the bebop era, is counter-cultural.

This is epistemic closure as most commonly seen in politics, the absolute rightness of one’s views, impervious to facts and thinking. It takes a heroic level of ignorance to be a jazz fan unaware of Woody Shaw, Miles Davis from 1965 onward, Weather Report, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joe Maneri, and The Tony Williams Lifetime. It takes an astounding level of patronizing self-regard to lecture the music for its political failings, as Halle does, while being so deaf to the music as it’s actually being made. His article is the perfect affirmation to Miles Davis’s explanation to why he didn’t talk about jazz anymore: “It’s a white folks’ word.”

One not need love the music, but the music exists regardless of how much, or little, one loves it or even knows it. The profound meaning of its continued existence comes with the closing of this circle: Rollins, at 84, is still playing and released the third volume of his live Road Shows records this year. His playing is as grand, charming, and witty as always. But jazz has moved on even from him, and there are a dozen or more other new records this year that, by pushing the music into the future, are more important.

*

Grella

George Grella Jr. is a composer, critic, and independent scholar. He is music editor at The Brooklyn Rail, publishes the Big City blog, and writes for the New York Classical Review, Jazziz, The American Record Guide, and Sequenza21.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

37 thoughts on “The Know-Nothings of Jazz

  1. thelonious monk

    Sadly, Rollins is not still playing, and hasn’t performed in a couple of years, due to illness. He mentioned in his recent Brooklyn appearance (Celebrate Ornette, June 2014) that he hoped to make a comeback in 2015, which is something worth praying for.

    Reply
  2. Ben

    This article seems to be an excellent defense of Real Jazz’s hip marginality, which is to say its self-imposed irrelevance. Grella seems perfectly happy to allow jazz to remain free among the outsiders tapping their feet in living rooms and basements everywhere. He is unaware that as jazz continues to “evolve” in a Petri dish locked away for fifty years in a forgotten cellar beneath the great laboratory of corporate music making, The Man continues to evolve and steer the rest of us, above ground, to meet his demands in ever new ways. The lonely outsider has always been the Man’s best friend.

    Reply
  3. George Grella

    Jazz’s “self-imposed irrelevance” is a clichéd myth used to excuse ignorance of what’s happening in the music, in exactly the way that Milton Babbitt’s name was used to excuse why someone didn’t listen to contemporary classical music. Economically, jazz is unfortunately mostly irrelevant, but that has nothing to do with the music. Moyer, Halle and commenter Ben are trapped in the overall commodification of American culture, where volume=quality.

    One advantage is that the music musicians make outside institutions and the shallow values of hipster culture is free to follow its own path, and the music is essentially being made in the streets, through direct experience with life in the culture. That’s the Petri dish, the world. Ben, you argue that jazz is outside where The Man steers us (what you mean is obscure), that’s a feature, not a bug. The establishment hack, in all the establishments, is The Man’s best friend.

    Reply
  4. Steve Provizer

    Part of my post “Whither Jazz Mojo?”-” Jazz Infra dig, the cachet of hip-ness, meant that the squares would, of course, not “get it.” That was the point. But how did it really work? It worked because the insider could always sense from body language and voice tone that there was a sort of grudging respect on the part of the squares; at least a small sense of regret or guilt that they were not hip enough to dig it.

    That tension was recognized and seized on by Madison Ave. as part of its strategy of leveraging rebelliousness to increase sales; i.e. Chet Baker-Miles Davis archetypes cradling horns with smoke curling up over their tailored chinos. I don’t see that strategy in operation anymore. Yes, I see Wynton in the NY Times modeling an expensive watch, but somehow, that’s not the same.

    That cultural push-pull is pretty much gone, replaced by squelched yawns and the kind of confidence on the part of former-might-once-have-been-squares that comes from knowing that jazz is the music of people who themselves don’t get it.

    Reply
  5. Doug

    “” This century alone has produced path-breaking jazz from Henry Threadgill, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, and so many more.”

    But by breaking the path, they’ve created a world where only musicians are interested in their music. And no women are at these gigs. The Social aspect and the warmth of humanity is no longer valued. I’m sure The Man will disagree.

    Reply
    1. Deborah Steinglass

      As the former Executive Director of The Jazz Gallery, where many of the aforementioned artists have and continue to perform, I can speak with some authority and say that all of these musicians have enthusiastic followers and diverse audiences for their music who most definitely are not exclusively musicians, quite to the contrary. Many of them, such as Darcy and Vijay, would fill the house and then some, with people of all ages, means, and ethnicities, male and female. The fact that they are deeply respected, admired and followed by their fellow musicians does not mean they are not ALSO valued by others. One does not preclude the other, and I believe we should be more respectful of the intelligence and the ears of those audiences for the music.

      Reply
      1. George Grella

        And there are also women in the ENSEMBLES! It is also completely untrue that only musicians are interested in the music, that’s the Babbitt canard just rewritten. These musicians draw on tremendously varied audience.

        And I also want to point out that “breaking the path” is the point of being a creative practitioner in any art form. And the goal of breaking the path, to paraphrase TS Eliot, is to point to way forward to where the tradition will catch up.

        Bottom line is the music exists, it is being made. It’s a free country, everyone’s entitled to their own sour grapes, but the combination of reactionary views and smug ignorance is appalling. They exist in great part because many of those in the position of introducing the public to new things have no idea what is going on.

        Reply
    2. Andrea Wolper

      I take issue with the statement that “no women are at these gigs.” The fact is that women are making music and going to hear it. I’m one of them; I make music in “basements and lofts and living room performance spaces” (as well as in more mainstream venues, as my own jazz proclivities are fairly wide-ranging), and I go to hear music in these spaces. I also curate an experimental music series; of the approximately 60 sets I’ve booked, about 25 have been led or co-led by women.

      Nor am I sure that “by breaking the path, they’ve created a world where only musicians are interested in their music,” is entirely true; I’m often surprised by audiences. But let’s suppose that what you say is true. Would you suggest that jazz musicians should merely stay on a very well-worn path? Because if they did that would indeed be the death of jazz–because it would not be jazz.

      Reply
    3. ClacketyClacketyClack

      That’s just dumb – the last time I saw Vijay play was at Winter Jazzfest here in NYC last January – and the house was packed with non-musicians of both sexes.

      Reply
  6. chavighurst

    Where jazz does have flickers of relevance and a promising future is multi-genre festivals like Bonnaroo and ACL. Medeski Martin and Wood have warmed up a generation or two to jazz, but the lack of imaginative programming and promotion to build on that is striking and mystifying. Del McCoury blew up bluegrass by playing in rock clubs and hippie festivals (I say that with affection). Jazz must do the same. By the way, Whitney Balliett retired from the New Yorker in 2001. He died in 2007.

    Reply
    1. George Grella

      Ratliff and Chinen are good, that’s why no mention of the Times, the Times at least covers jazz. But there’s jazz going on every night in NYC, and the paper prints far more dance reviews than jazz. Strange.

      Reply
  7. Charley Gerard

    Am I reading a 1950s-era critic who has rejoined us some 60 years later to tell us that their jazz is where it’s at, and everything else is fake? Or is it a 1960s-era critic who is woken up from a 50-year slumber, still raving about “The Man?” He suggests that John Zorn, Henry Threadgill, et al, are underground figures. (“But few, if any, of these musicians teach and play recitals at colleges and universities, or appear at Jazz at Lincoln Center.”) If this critic had been awake for the last two years he would be aware that John Zorn’s birthday was celebrated at many establishment venues. And several of the musicians he considers emblematic of current jazz have been at jazz festivals, Poisson Rouge, and other well-known venues. BTW, Threadgill and Vijay Iyer have both performed at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, surely an establishment venue. Darcy James Argue was Downbeat Magazine’s Rising Star Winner in the big band category. Who is the know-nothing critic now?

    Reply
    1. Andrea Wolper

      I agree that many of the names on the list of “path breakers” struck an odd note, and their inclusion threatens to undermine the premise of the article. But despite that, there are some awfully good points made herein. So imagine other names in that list and see if the article makes more sense; as Grella says in a comment, “the music exists, it is being made,” and that’s what matters. And as my friend Matt LaVelle says in a comment below, “there are other musicians out there that you may not have heard of, that have given everything to the music. EVERY-thing… There are musicians that are not as well known as the folks above that are playing at the core of what the music is. Moving it forward despite the adversity and lack of audience. I implore anybody interested in the music to seek them out.”

      Reply
    2. George Grella

      Charley, you don’t seem to be reading at all actually, maybe just skimming. The view that musicians not playing JALC are “underground” is yours, not mine, as is your defensiveness (it’s worth pointing out that while Zorn’s music appeared at Alice Tully Hall for the 2013 city-wide celebration of his 60th birthday, that was compositions in the classical tradition).

      Since I’m pointing out that musicians are doing important, new jazz, and that it is happening and available EXCEPT if you ONLY look at JALC and university faculties, what exactly is your issue? The critics I am arguing against are the ones you should be bitching at.

      Reply
  8. Ben

    George– My previous post was unclear, as I was feeling somewhat lyrical in the couple minutes I spent pecking it out. This, and my somewhat dubious metaphors (especially: underground/above-ground), contributed – quite understandably – to your misunderstanding my response to your argument. Let me first say that I respect jazz and jazz musicians enormously. I’m a classically trained pianist, and I envy my friends who are fluent improvisers, who can jam, who can play by ear, who can innovate in these forms, etc. Many Jazz musicians also have a groove that classical musicians should learn from. Also, and needless to say, classical music is laced with historical and aesthetic contradictions of its own. It wasn’t my intention to take sides. To criticize jazz is not to condemn it. We ought to know its limitations.

    Here’s the essence of my beef with your article, rephrased for clarity: it’s not clear what you think the virtue of counterculture is, or even what you mean by the term. You say that, “by definition . . . anything that doesn’t sell” is “outside music, counter-culture music.” But does this necessarily mean it is free, progressive, emancipatory? There are plenty of cultural forms existing outside the market that have no such socially redeeming qualities. That extra-institutional jazz is “free to follow its own path” does not mean that it resists or negates the dominant culture. To the contrary, the total individualization, self-reliance, and personal artistic autonomy that you see embodied in your preferred jazz scene are in fact symptoms of an atomized, corporate-capitlist society.

    This is what I meant by “the lonely outsider has always been the Man’s best friend.” Jazz NEEDS corporate culture to exist for it to remain apart from it. In its independence from the mainstream, it is totally dependent on it. In it’s limited realm of freedom, it is totally determined. In this sense, jazz ironically affirms the very culture it sets out to reject, so I just can’t see a progressive project following from it. But, perhaps social emancipation is not what you were after.

    Reply
    1. George Grella

      Ben, I understand what you’re getting at, but your topic, while related to my article, is a separate thing altogether, and worthy of an entirely different discussion. Where I can respond or expand vis-a-vis what I wrote, I would say that my perspective is far different than yours, I’m not sure we could discuss it in the same language.

      Briefly: 1) one of my main points is that what Moyer, Halle et al are doing is not criticizing but whining, there is insufficient knowledge for their writing to even rise to the level of criticism, 2) there is such a pervasive influence of materialism/consumerism that gatekeeping publications that used to care about jazz don’t even know what it is anymore because it doesn’t sell enough for them to take notice, 3) in a society where EVERYTHING has been commodified, including things that appear superficially to be anti-establishment, things that don’t produce enough money to be commodified are truly counter-cultural.

      You seem to be outlining some sort of Hegelian dialectic for jazz, which is not without interest but is also artificial, as is the tautology that jazz needs the existence of something to be outside of. The music is what it is, its political and social content are determined by the makes, but that’s a personal direction and not a requirement. And the ACTUAL, as opposed to the general or notional, matters: the fact that there is a large pool of musicians who work together and collaborate across the names I mention and the ensembles I imply (and that goes beyond the necessarily short list I put down), and that if you go to gigs regularly you see a community of musicians, fans and critics checking things out and supporting each other, is real proof that the “the total individualization, self-reliance, and personal artistic autonomy” don’t exist. That’s simply not the way it is, and that is beyond obvious if you get the records and go to the shows.

      Reply
  9. Matt Lavelle

    Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, and so many more.

    As one of the many more I must say there are other musicians out there that you may not have heard of, that have given everything to the music. EVERY-thing. The musicians mentioned above in this article are well known, deserve respect, and a couple of them may have been given massive financial support.

    There are others like myself who have worked in retail full time for 25 years so I could play door gigs at night. Then there are the veterans who, like a friend of mine, cant get a door gig even though he spent 13 years with Ornette Coleman.

    The deeper reality of the music is not the one you may read about online. There are musicians that are not as well known as the folks above that are playing at the core of what the music is. Moving it forward despite the adversity and lack of audience. I implore anybody interested in the music to seek them out. Peace.

    http://matt-lavelle.blogspot.com/2014/10/jazz-meets-death.html

    Reply
  10. CrankyYankee

    Jazz doesn’t need to be recognized on the level of Pop or Hip Hop to be relevant. It’s an art that just is. In the early 50s we played after hours and for free in late night clubs to people who “got it”. When I came back from Europe in the 1960s those same clubs were charging to get in, and the music was bland by comparison. And yet, real jazz endures. You just have to “get it” in order to distinguish the real deal from what a friend called Yuppy Elevator Music.

    Reply
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  13. anon

    Mr. Grella should be praised for putting some context on an issue which is symptomatic of a much larger set of issues. The zero sum game-like “dislike” of jazz by people in the mainstream population, has it’s roots in several paradigm shifts that have had a cumulatively detrimental effect on our aggregate perception.

    In a recent interview on PBS, Norman Lear was asked what makes “today’s” audience different than the one he wrote for. His paraphrased response was that (in America) “we used to be citizens, now we are consumers”. This observation has a direct relationship to why, in America, our overall aesthetic bar (or appreciation, if you will) has been lowered. We now value profit for it’s own sake over any kind of mental aspiration on a cultural level.

    Sadly, our appreciation of the arts in general has been negatively impacted by the “hostile takeover” of a non-sustainable economic model which values “profit for its own sake” over any other value. Witness the national disappearance of extra curricular music classes in places where such subjects are deemed dispensable. Another equally insidious culprit that has less visibly altered our appreciation is the ubiquitous nature of personal technology, in the form of PDA’s, tablets, and even laptops. For successful listening, jazz requires sustained concentration and a lack of distraction. Almost as an entitlement, today’s young audience assumes that the presence of their personal device of choice is always welcome during a performance, and many even assume that if no statement to the contrary regarding the filming of the performance is made, it is fair game for YouTube (another issue which deserves equal billing to this subject).

    Finally, there is the fallout from music product no longer being readily available using a street level retail infrastructure. Combine that with the advent of the streaming subscription model, for which most artists are barely compensated, and you get an audience which rationales that “by proxy”, the “dollar” value (ergo cultural value) of any sub-genre must be lower than when the previous model was in place.

    The short term solution to this unfortunate confluence of factors is that musicians who were committed to the jazz idiom and are strong at their craft must stay committed and “soldier on” in the form of live performances, and continuous archiving of their work. In other words, business as usual.

    Reply
  14. Chris Becker

    Great article. And good comments too! I’m glad people who actually participate in and play this music are throwing in their 2 cents.

    I’ll echo Andrea’s comment and say that both the jazz community at large and the larger (?) music community could be and should be doing a lot more to acknowledge the profound impact women have had in developing and perpetuating this music. There’s still a mind-numbing amount of sexism and discrimination to be found in the programming of “jazz” festivals and in the hiring practices of “jazz” education programs. You will find many, many exceptions, but there is still work to be done.

    Which mean, there’s more music to discover, and more to be done with the music. In the words of Connie Crothers: “We’re moving. Jazz is NOT dead. In fact, we’re moving into something incredible.

    Reply
    1. Matt Lavelle

      Half of the members of my 15 piece orchestra called the 12 Houses are woman. They are powerful individuals and colors existing on their own terms. JALC has no woman on their big band. None.

      Reply
  15. George Cartwright

    I’m glad you wrote this and glad I got to read it. The Sonny Rollins article satire SATIRE about Sonny Rollins
    has to be the most tasteless thing I’ve ever read about music and to write it about SONNY ROLLINS!!!!! Please. Ya get to write about SONNY ROLLINS and you write that. Sigh.Somebody needs to pick the pace up. And of all the people just standing around that you could do fantastic brutal and deserved satire on it’s Sonny Rollins who gets picked. Gee.
    I’m with Celine who said ‘ Love is the infinite placed within the reach of poodle’.

    Reply
  16. Jim

    Sorry should read ” who are out there fronting this music” there are some real powerhouses out there now seriously changing the game.

    Reply
  17. joel harrison

    This is a really thoughtful article. Just last night I had an impassioned conversation with Don Palmer who lead the New York State Council of the Arts Individual Artist program for 25 years about these same issues. Jazz, the quintessentially American music, gets less and less love in America as time goes on, and a “golden era” continues to be festishized by people who end up “standing in” as spokespeople for this vibrant, ever-evolving music. What really puzzles me (angers me, too) is the notion that jazz somehow is itself at fault for “losing its audience”, as if in the golden era all the jazz lions did was sit around and think about ways to get a big crowd. It was marginal than, and it still is (though even more.) Most people who take the time to put down jazz don’t have a clue as to all the amazing music that is out there. Jazz, like classical music, is indeed an art form that sometimes takes a bit of effort to find, understand, and even love. Jazz runs a huge gamut of sounds and styles, some fit for the concert hall, some fit for a funky club. To pick on it in any way, without knowing its breadth today, is indefensible. It’s pathetic. It screams of intellectual and emotional laziness masquerading as wisdom. If you want to hold Indie Pop up as the banner of the age, go ahead (I don’t.) But don’t drag thousands of great, hard-working, passionate lovers of a great American art form through the mud with your bullshit demagoguery.

    Reply
    1. Rob Gibson

      While Mr. Grella’s story is appreciated, and it is particularly commendable of him to discredit the deplorable and vacuous articles by Moyer and Halle, what still seems to be missing is the point that all jazz is modern. The journalistic fallacy that jazz has somehow “moved on” from Rollins, or even from artists like Monk, Ellington and Waller, displays a naive and limited view about music and the arts in general. Does one really believe that jazz in the 40’s was better than jazz in the 30’s? Or that jazz in the 50’s improved upon the 40’s? Or that jazz in the 21st century is superior to the music from the 90’s? There is always extension and elaboration in any art form, just as Schubert used Beethoven for inspiration, and Bach summarized so much of what was going on around him during his lifetime. The modernity of Cezanne was not superseded by Picasso or Pollock, just as the big band charts of Mingus didn’t top Ellington – they were all part of a continuum.

      There are literally thousands of teenagers across America just being introduced to jazz in their high school years, and they cannot simply begin with Henry Threadgill or John Zorn without a basic understanding of the achievements of earlier jazz masters such as Pops, Duke, Bird, Miles, etc. On top of that, this younger generation has so much more access to information than we did 40 years ago — a simple trip to YouTube reveals live footage by every aforementioned musician at no cost — proving that it will always come back to the pursuit of education.

      Why is it that people who are interested in jazz spend so much time arguing about it, proclaiming it dead, dismissing past giants while proclaiming those they believe are the new ones, connecting it to their own petty politics, or tearing down the achievements of people in the field working hard to keep jazz moving forward? One might be a high school jazz band instructor in Arizona hoping that his/her student might make it professionally, or a presenter in Wyoming trying to put a jazz group in front of 500 people, or a saxophonist in London trying to get a recording deal, or a composer in Queens trying to get one’s music played while teaching by day at a local college or driving a cab at night – these are all valid ways to participate in the jazz community at large and all part of keeping the music alive.

      Mr. Grella deserves kudos for dissing the bitter whiners, but his concluding notion that “jazz has moved on even from him (Rollins), and there are a dozen or more other new records this year that, by pushing the music into the future, are more important”is fallacious and beside the point.

      Reply
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  19. avram fefer

    First off—-Amen to my brothers in music, Matt Lavelle and Joel Harrison.

    As a life-long professional jazz saxophonist, I can’t help being amused at many of the comments and discussions on this subject. It sounds at times like people from 50 different countries arguing about “what is food?” (I’m sure many people would be amazed at what they find in our American supermarkets that seem to qualify!!) Are we talking about Duke Ellington, or Henry Threadgill, or Billie Holiday, or Cecil Taylor, or Keith Jarrett, or Maynard Ferguson, or John Zorn, or Kenny G, or Herb Alpert, or MMW, or Tim Berne, or Bad Pulse, or Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra, or who?

    Luckily, jazz is so healthy and naturally self-sustaining that it has continually spun off in different directions, much like the evolution of human language itself. I personally find that there is room under the jazz umbrella for every conceivable human emotion and that the jazz that I listen to never ceases to inspire and fuel my imagination. It can be uplifting, provocative, funny, spiritual, happy, sad, and downright dirty—sometimes all in the same tune!

    Like other ways we use to communicate with each other— comedy, literature, rap, for example — there are different levels available to be understood. I know that no matter how ‘cool and hip’ I may be as a badass saxophone player, I am missing nearly all the inside references in today’s rap and pop music. I am really not worried about it — It seems that there are many millions of others who can provide this level of appreciation of these topical references and inside jokes.

    Meanwhile, I will be listening to one of the many incredibly talented interpreters and improvisers of this American art form called jazz, quietly chuckling to myself at a witty turn of melodic phrase, a reharmonization that seems to open the skies above, or a rhythmic syncopation that is so deep and good that it hurts inside.

    All of us jazz musicians feel the difference in reception we get playing in various countries around the world. The subtlety and power of the music, it’s artistic status, and it’s inherent revolutionary nature are not lost on many of them. I cannot think of another endeavor that is more truly representative of the democratic process than jazz at its best—-spontaneity, flexibility, individuality, responsibility, teamwork, timing, expression, and listening. When I travel I feel proud of this music and it’s role in the world.

    It’s not for everybody. But to me, it is clearly worth a lifetime of devotion.

    Reply
  20. Mampf

    If you don’t see that Steve Coleman is the “next logical step after Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman” (Billy Hart) you can’t talk about hipness of jazz!

    Reply
  21. Janis

    “It takes a heroic level of ignorance to be a jazz fan unaware of Woody Shaw, Miles Davis from 1965 onward, Weather Report, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joe Maneri, and The Tony Williams Lifetime.”

    Gee, thanks. Here I thought I was just enjoying myself listening to hot New Orleans dixieland and telling people that I liked that kind of music, and I’ve just learned that by making that remark and being unaware and uninterested in the junk the author also likes, I’m “heroically ignorant.”

    But you know what? I’ll continue to listen happily to whatever slivers of jazz I like — mostly Doreen Ketchens for the moment, someone you’re probably “heroically ignorant” of — and not give a good half-crap what some jazz snoot thinks I’m supposed to like in order to be a certified member of his tribe.

    I’m not a member of your tribe, and I don’t want to be. I’m just an amateur musician who likes Doreen Ketchens and Dave Tarras from time to time, and I feel absolutely no responsibility to like them in a manner that you or anyone else finds acceptable, so piss off.

    Reply

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