America's Been Tough On The Jazzman

Discussion in 'Jazz / Commercial' started by gzent, Mar 7, 2005.

  1. gzent

    gzent Fortissimo User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Rochester, MN
    America's Been Tough On The Jazzman

    By Eric Pettine

    Not only does he have to master his ax, isolate himself (to an extent) from mainstream society to create in solitude, engage in often maddening self-denial, but the jazzman is constantly judged by his creations on the spot by his listening audience and as well as by his peers. Most doctors and lawyers don't have to endure that kind of intense scrutiny. Popular professional sports figures maybe endure that public pickiness for a season but get paid more in one season than most jazzmen will receive in a lifetime. Even in his own field, a jazzman must accept the fact that a rapper has to spew only rhythm and rhyme to make mega-moolah.

    Consider The “Language†Barrier.
    Although the average jazz listener doesn't have to theoretically comprehend harmonic extentions/complex chordal voicings or modal melodies to enjoy jazz music, he/she usually unconsciously, savors those sounds that are so prevalent throughout the “language†of jazz. The jazz “language/sound†even found it's way into the best of mainstream contemporary music (Beatles, Beach Boys [Brian Wilson], Burt Bacharach, Steely Dan, et al) last century. However, with today's modern “pop†music being so “dumbed-down†and so devoid of those jazzy chords/voicings and modalities - in any/most current popular music genres - society's collective musical “ears†have either forgotten or never experienced the “jazz soundâ€. Record and radio companies who focused/focus on “formula as finance†should perhaps bear the greatest amount of guilt for this.

    Consider Our Attention Span.
    It's difficult for most people to pull themselves away from that hyperkinetic/hypnotic flick they've just rented, that pro/college/amateur football game they're rooting for and/or betting on, the online poker game that's pecking at their last chip or that Playstation “T†or “M†rated game in which they're virtually vicariously victorious. These folks, it seems, are not willing or much less likely to check out Nancy Wilson, Cassandra Wilson, Bill Evans, Bill Frisell or the local jazz cats on a Friday/Saturday night or Sunday afternoon anymore. For many Americans maybe jazz just isn't wiggy enough.

    Consider This “Idol†Business.
    Only in America, it seems, would we have a hit TV show entitled “American Idolâ€. Maybe it's asking too much for a series called American Talent which could showcase the vocally and instrumentally gifted performing original (jazz or other stylistic) compositions rather than feature a plethora of karaoke king and queen wannabes. If idol equals image and image equals icon (in the most pejorative sense of the word) as it does so prevalently throughout the US, the fate of the jazzman in this country is in serious trouble. We know that Miles made various funky fashion statements throughout his career, Dizzy had the coolest looking chops around, and Coltrane was Cosmic, but, in the end it was what came from their horns, heads and hearts that will be remembered miles beyond.

    Consider our Lacking Cultural Pride.
    It's been said that America's been great at inventing and reinventing itself and from a technological standpoint who can argue? We are the models of mass-materialism and the masters of massiveness. Jazz is an American invention that has stood the test of time and like other popular American inventions namely baseball, football and basketball, it should be held in high esteem and perpetually and popularly celebrated. Maybe not so ironically jazz is and has been lauded consistently in a very big way in Europe (especially in Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and France) where the people have always cultivated culture. Saxophonist Dave Leibman in his article entitled “Europe - Its Role In Jazz†says that George Wein (founder of the Newport and JVC Jazz Festivals) once told him: “If it weren't for Europe, there would be no jazz!†America's a tough crowd indeed.

    Consider Jazz' Future.
    It seems jazz is no longer solely America's music. Mike Zwerin, noted jazz critic and author states that, “the future of the music (jazz) is growing out more than is getting everywhere. There appear to be no more Coltranes on the horizon ... on the other hand you can now go to just about any city in the developed world and hear a world-class rhythm section.†It would make sense that, jazz in the truest sense of the word—as a creative, improvisational and personal and high art form—would flourish overseas rather than in an America seemingly infatuated with a “fix†rather than a foundation. The European people, by and large, know how to enjoy jazz and each other's company better than we Americans do. The cafe is still THE place for great jazz and conversation. However, it's difficult to imagine jazz cafes springing up in the ubiquitous strip malls across America, although, there's always the possibility of reinvention.

  2. PhatmonB6

    PhatmonB6 Mezzo Piano User

    Jan 16, 2005
    Thank you for putting into words what I have always felt fot the past few years. ;-)
  3. Bear

    Bear Forte User

    Apr 30, 2004
    Amen... good read. Heartwarming... now if only people would listen and think upon it.
  4. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    There is hope, though, don't you think?

    A week or so ago I took my family down to CSO hall to hear Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove. The music they played was SQUARELY in the style of the Herbie Hancock of the post Miles years but pre Headhunters - VERY out stuff. Brecker was in astonishing form and did about 15 minutes by himself with his little EWI doing some serious outter space stuff - extremely hip - merciless in that regard.

    The audience LOVED it! Their take on Pinnochio was so far out, and yet the folks there dug it (full house at the Symphony Center).

    Last week, I took the family to hear Frank Wess and Jimmy Heath do a tribute to Dexter Gordon. We heard some of the best hard bop I can remember hearing - live. Again, a good house all very appreciative.

    Granted, these were single gigs that appealed to a specific crowd of folks (many musicians turned up), but there are some art starved listeners out there.

    Also, I honestly feel that the nature of good jazz has always had a spiritual component to it. No matter HOW crusty the rep of the jazz aritst (Miles and Chet were not known as 'delicate' individuals...), this always gets through. I've been using Sketches of Spain in my physics labs as background music. This is better than Mozart for creating an introspective atmosphere. There was something inside of Miles that wanted to come out, and IT sure did!

    Even the most hardened hip-hopper will be touched by sheer beauty, IMHO.

    Yeah, it IS tough. Yeah, the land of the "American Idol" is no longer the bastien of hippness and culture, but we all need to keep on sharing the music. We need to create music of the heart, but ultimately, that's what jazz is. It can be fun and lilting (like a Clark Terry solo) or deep and spiritual (like an Eddie Henderson or Kenny Wheeler solo), but as long as it's from the heart, there will be a component that will take the listener to a higher plane, even if only for a moment.

    Jazz artists - creative artists - have an obligation to do this to make the world more liveable!

    Whoaaaa! I'm channelling Morpheus! Better stop before this post gets any farther out!

    Peace, all!

    Nick Drozdoff
  5. Jarrett

    Jarrett Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Richland, MO
    Do any of you guys ever feel like your in on a big secret with jazz? Like you are exposed to a world most people never spent 5 minutes paying attention to. Alot of times, I just feel priviledged to have been given the opportunity to study and listen to and play jazz.
  6. PH

    PH Mezzo Piano User

    Dec 2, 2003
    Bloomington, Indiana
    Honestly, this is part of what attracted me to jazz in the first place (back in high school in the lat '60s & early '70s). It was like I'd found a hidden treasure and me and my friends went there to hang out while everybody else was listening to Grand Funk Railroad and Captain & Tenille.
  7. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Um...what's wrong with the Captain and Tenille? I was jamming to them coming in to work today. I still have "Love Will Keep Us Together" in my head. It's what keeps me going at work.

    And who could forget the Bionic Watermellon. Man, what a shame. That was some quality TV programming and it should still be on the air today in my opinion.

    Oh man. The Captain and Tenille. WHAT were we thinking!?

    My prefereces with Jazz music are usually along the lines of the more upbeat, such as big band or latin jazz but I always try to keep an open mind toward that sort of thing. Most people will never realize what they are missing.

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