Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Future of Jazz Isn't In Jazz
The future of jazz isn't in jazz.
That's why experiments like Mark Lowrey's December 12 tribute to Radiohead are so vital. Here's Tim Finn's fascinating discussion with Lowrey about the project.
I'm not a particularly rabid Radiohead fan. My ears perk up instead when hip hop DJs are replaced by jazz rhythm sections. (I expounded on that concept in a Lowrey-related essay four months ago. (That's Lowrey and his "With Drums" ensemble in the embedded video.)
Because I'm lucky enough to experience a wide range of live music several nights a week, I'm in a unique position to know just how shockingly small and pitfully passive the audience for jazz has become. If the most steadfast advocates of jazz could see what I see they'd realize just how severely the jazz audience has atrophied. The vast majority of entire generations of music fans have been lost.
Don't take my word for it. Just look at NPR's listener selections for the year in music. These are precisely the same sort of elite music aficionados who would have been extolling the merits of Chet Baker, David Brubeck, Miles Davis and Herbie Mann fifty years ago. Not only isn't a jazz title among their picks (unless you want to count Norah Jones' new rock-ish album at #28), the music isn't even on their radar. (Terry Teachout, of course, made a similar point in a controversial editorial earlier this year.)
I take no pleasure in making these observations, especially since I believe the music is undergoing an artistic renaissance. And I love my Jay McShann collection even more than I admire the latest sounds from the likes of Joe Lovano. But these sublime pleasures aren't shared by many.
The crisis- and yes, it is a crisis- can only be addressed by concepts like Lowrey's. I'm not suggesting that Lowrey's gig is going to save jazz. It might not even be any good. But it's a good idea. And jazz can use a lot more of those right now.