Sunday, July 12, 2009

Plastic Sax's Crystal Ball

I don't particularly care for the music made by the likes of Mouth. The Kansas City band has more in common with Phish and Allan Holdsworth than with Charlie Parker and Joe Lovano.

A contentious debate at the Plastic Sax compound about whether or not to include Mouth in Plastic Sax's jazz listings has inspired a great deal of thought about the future of jazz.

Here are a few predictions about major changes that will transform the jazz community over the next ten years.

Definitions. In 2019 it will no longer seem odd to categorize bands like Mouth as "jazz." The word will have lost much of its current connotation. Prog rock, jam bands and ambitious roots-based music? Call it jazz. Need a headliner for a big jazz festival? Book Ben Harper, John Mayer or Wilco. They may not meet the outdated definition of jazz, but they sell tickets to fans who own a copy of Kind of Blue.

Support. Traditional jazz musicians will increasingly rely on support from government agencies and charitable foundations. Organizations like the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra will thrive and multiply. Privately-financed operations like Jardine's will be forced to continue their gradual drift away from mainstream jazz.

Education. The jazz establishment will finally lose their firm grip on music education. The new model will be programs along the lines of Paul Green's School of Rock and Columbia College's music production training.

Underground. A subversive alternative scene will blossom. A rebellious form of jazz- much of it noisy and and anarchic- will become the chosen music of anti-establishment hipsters. Imagine loft jazz redux.

Thanks, Mouth, for inspiring these musings. But I won't be listening to jams like "Gnarly" as I attempt to defend this post. Instead, I'll be hiding behind my enormous collection of Jay McShann memorabilia as abuse is hurled in my direction.

(Original image of Mouth by Plastic Sax.)


Patchchord said...

Jazz as museum piece rather than jazz as a living, breathing, evolving entity? Seems like a narrow definition to me, Happy.

andrew said...

jazz is a pebble in a pond, albeit an important one.

the unthinking lemming said...

I think you are being a little harsh on Allan Holdsworth. I know AH primarily from his work with Jean-Luc Ponty. I have no problem with his place as a jazz musician. From what I have heard, I have no problem with Mouth as legitimate Jazz Fusion act.

Next you will be telling us that Al DiMeola and Pat Metheny aren't worthy to be included within the confines of the jazz house. ;-P

*gathers stones*

I have a few more thoughts... I also have to mow my yard and go to band practice.

Andrew Algren said...

That is hilarious. Allan Holdsworth not jazz?? Sadly I feel that it is this mentality that has caused the genre to stagnate. Western art music suffers much of the same, with people only wanting to hear orchestra's play Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc. to the neglect of new composers.

From going back through your blog, you seem to think Parker, Davis, Rollins, Evans, etc. et. al (obviously I could list hundreds, if not thousands of other seminal jazz artists from the middle third of the century, but I am not here to prove myself to you) took the evolution of the genre to its final point. Truly, these men and women were gods, but is there truly no space on Olympus for someone who has something else to say?

This is practically a "when I was your age everything was better because it was my experience" post, rather than giving any valid critique of Mouth. Who, from what I have seen, claim to be a jam band first and foremost. Jazz influenced, yes, but a full-on jazz group? I am doubtful that such an assertion has been made.

You seem to be a fan of an era- and I quote:
"There were discordant moments but the traditional Jardine's patron need not be alarmed. Even when Trio All ventures outside, they never leave the yard."

Should that ever matter? Music without evolution dies. Let them leave the yard. Embrace them when they go down to the corner store. Rejoice if they hop the next plane out of town, or even the next shuttle to Mars. You should feel blessed that there are still young players who are even jazz-informed, let alone still playing Jazz, in its most formal definition.

I pray for the sake of the music that no one, including you and I, will be able to dictate what the genre must and must not be. If nothing else, improvisation is the very basis of the music we both love. Let those behind the skins, the strings, the valves, the reeds, the mallets, and keys (be it ivory, plastic, full size, or one octave synth)determine the path of the living creature that is Jazz.


Unknown said...

You have one of the more obtuse views of what a particular genre of music is "supposed to be" I have read in a while. To say that any band is signaling the "death" of a genre of music sounds like a curmudgeonly man complaining about what "kids are listening to these days". Rehashing what other musicians have already done in their genre is not in the spirit of true musicianship (in fact, it's pretty boring).

Music evolves over time, thank the gods above. Evolution is what makes music what it is. This is why punk rockers who embrace what punk "used to be" are missing out on what the "punk rock" genre really means and represents.

If only the rate of music evolution matched the evolution of small-minded critics - the world would be a more exciting place.

So you go ahead and stick to your guns about what the limitations and "good ol' days" of one genre are. Most of us will be moving forward with the rest of the world and enjoying new sounds, tastes, smells, and experiences.

Jeremy said...

Hey man, this is Jeremy, the guitar player for Mouth. First of all, thanks for taking the time to listen to and write about our music. I really appreciate it, though I'd be interested in hearing more about what you think of it, rather than what you think it should be called.

I, personally, do not call it jazz, but it depends on your definition of jazz. If jazz is music that swings, we're not playing jazz. If jazz is playing the same standards night after night, year after year, we're not playing jazz. If jazz is blues-based music with a dance rhythm over which the players are free to improvise, then yes, we ARE playing jazz.

But ultimately I don't really care what you call the music we make. I just hope some people can enjoy our shows enough to drop the pseudo-intellectual bullshit for a while and get on with the dancing.

Safe Boating is No Accident said...

Jazz stopped being a dance music over half a century ago.

Jeremy said...

I don't think all of it did, it's just that people stopped dancing to it. You're right that most music that people call jazz produced after 1945 or so wasn't made with the goal of making people dance, but your comment backs up my point that it depends on how you define jazz. Did the music made WITH the goal of being dance-able (Early Ellington, for example) STOP being jazz once jazz stopped being defined as a style of dance music? And if the definition of jazz has changed in the past, what's so bad about it happening again? And perhaps most importantly, what difference does it make what you call it?

Safe Boating is No Accident said...

I don't think that it really does depend on what one's def. of jazz is. Obviously, there is no single objective def. of the word jazz. I think the root of the problem here is that people are more comfortable with saying "that's not jazz" than "that's ineffective/bad jazz". I think it really is more engaging to talk about music in terms of it's success given it's intended genre than whether or not it is in that genre.

I think we all agree that modern, good, successful jazz, aside from being well-played, should recognize the the rich history of jazz music and push it forward at the same time. I'm going to reserve judgment on Mouth's success as a jazz trio, but I might venture to say that if an electric small ensemble "just wants to make people dance" and is uninterested in what that music is called, than they may not be making very interesting or successful jazz.

As a side note, this is Neil McCormick, who went to high school with Jeremy; How are you? I'm glad to see that you and Zach are still busy making good music regardless of genre.

Jeremy said...

This is just semantics, man. You said, "I think we all agree that modern, good, successful jazz ... should recognize the the rich history of jazz music and push it forward at the same time." Everyone is going to have a different definition of "modern," "good," "successful" and "jazz" as well as what it means to "push jazz forward." Additionally, people are going to disagree about whether "good" "jazz" really NEEDS to "push the genre forward," whatever that means.

You also said, "I might venture to say that if an electric small ensemble 'just wants to make people dance' and is uninterested in what that music is called, than they may not be making very interesting or successful jazz." First of all I never said that I "just want to make people dance." Second of all, to say that a band probably isn't making interesting music because they're not concerned with what strangers on the internet are calling their music is just stupid.

But I should repeat that I don't call Mouth's music jazz, and my original point was that talking about these things shouldn't distract you from the only question that really matters, which is "Do I enjoy hearing this music or not?" If you'd actually listen to us I'd welcome your opinion and any criticism. Then maybe we could have a meaningful conversation instead of just arguing semantics.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, well said on all levels. As you said, the bottom line here is about whether or not people just take pleasure in listening to the music, regardless of how it's labeled, categorized or defined.

Too much time, energy, talent and breath is wasted on trying to stuff music into a mold.

Safe Boating is No Accident said...

I'm really leery of conceding that genre classification isn't important. I feel like that's a defense employed to justify irrelevance. By the standards of "everyone's different def." a musician could make the most vapid tripe to ever come out of a pedal board, and as long as it was well performed and somewhat consonant that musician doesn't have to answer to anyone. That makes for poor music and an extremely poor music scene.

Context is extremely important in the way we experience any kind of art. I'm not trying to defend some abstract concept of jazz. I guess what I'm trying to do is address this absurd solipsist BS that I see here that suggests that it "depends on ur def." There is obviously room for different conceptions of what the goal of a genre should be, but employing that simple fact as a defense against accusations of irrelevance smacks a little of desperation.

Maybe the main disagreement here is whether or not modern music needs to be primarily concerned with relevance. I would suggest that it should.

[listened to your myspace, would rather hear you live before criticism.]

the unthinking lemming said...

Does Jeremy own a copy of "Kind of Blue"?

Happy In Bag said...

I first want to issue an apology to Patch and Luke- their comments languished awaiting moderation. It's my fault. Gmail is the greatest, but I have trouble spotting multiple threads. Sorry guys.

You're full of surprises, Lemming. I didn't anticipate a defense of Holdsworth from you. I love it.

I'd like to point out that my lack of enthusiasm for Mouth's approach doesn't mean they're not worthwhile. Just take a look at the joy they're bringing to the audience in the linked video- it's extremely impressive.

Thanks to one and all for your thoughtful comments.

the unthinking lemming said...

Your chatting with a man experimenting with the electric tuba.