Monday, May 24, 2010
Thriving On a Riff: Jazz's Last Chance
I'm constantly fretting about the future of jazz. It's what jazz fans do. What if Esperanza Spalding isn't "the one"? Is Brad Mehldau the answer? Who's going to be left to listen in forty years?
As has been noted elsewhere, there's no shortage of great new jazz music. But there's an increasingly limited number of people willing to consume it.
In the past ten days I've attended performances by hard rock and metal bands, Americana acts, a folk singer, honky tonk legends, a hip hop collective, an R&B group and a set by four of Kansas City's premier jazz musicians. Guess which event had the smallest audience.
Concerts by Pat Metheny and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra are notable exceptions, but of the 111 individual live performances I've seen so far in 2010, jazz events have been the most pitifully attended. Why?
The answer might lie with my good friend, the appropriately named Concert Chris. He recently traveled to Austin, Chicago and Omaha to see his favorite artists. He's taken in 210 performances in 2010. Yet the otherwise wonderful man has a strong antipathy to jazz.
I'm inclined, consequently, to celebrate this footage. Documenting the second official installment of Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop, it was shot and edited by a Concert Chris. Matt Chalk, Brandon Draper, Shay Estes and Hermon Mehari are among the featured jazz musicians. In similar fashion, a gifted photographer normally inclined to shoot popular music also covered the show.
As I've said countless times, jazz's commercial viability won't come from someone reiterating Basie or Ellington. The music of tomorrow sounds less like "Thriving On a Riff" and more like Gang Starr. If jazz has a genuine, audience-supported future, it probably looks and sounds a lot like what went down May 15 at the Record Bar.