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.


bgo said...

Out of spite not anger I shall refrain from a rant in regards to this most illuminating post of yours.

I sent Finn an edited version of our earlier exchange about lists than told him I would try to perhaps meet today's deadline.

Hermon Mehari said...

If you all want to see the future of jazz, go to the Blue Room tonight and tomorrow night to see Logan Richardson, Nasheet Waits, Joe Sanders and Harold O' Neal :)

Happy In Bag said...

You'll see me at The Record Bar on Monday for the Diverse gig, Hermon.

Anonymous said...

Happy - another good post. I have no idea what the future of jazz may be - part of the fun will be watching it unfold.

However... are we close to finishing the "jazz is/(is not) dead" topic? ;)

It's a given that we jazzers are in the minority. The comment, "But these sublime pleasures aren't shared by many." could've been written 30-40 years ago. Jazz has not been "popular" music since the passing of the big band era.

Given that, jazz in KC doesn't seem as bleak to me as some of your blogs suggest. This may not be the "golden" era some of us imagine, but it's not a total disaster either.

I go out about 1-2 times a week to listen to (mostly) jazz. Over the past year, I have been to a lot of capacity or near capacity gigs at Jardines or the Blue Room featuring local groups like The Jazz Disciples, Sons of Brasil, Diverse, Angela Hagenbach and many others. They're not all that way, but many of them are.

I want to challenge all readers of your excellent blog to get out at least ONE time in the next week to support live jazz in KC.

Anonymous said...

You do a great job here at Plastic Sax, and I know that this is your OP-ED.

I really enjoy reading Plastic Sax, but like @Anonymous, sometimes am put off by the consistent "jazz is dead" mantra that seems to appear here in some context or other within every other post or so.

And, promoting the new and upcoming generations in the music (which is great and should continue x10!) in Kansas City doesn't mean that what they are doing is new though - it is new to Kansas City, yes... But, such jingoism can actually be negative... That type of dynamic was one of the things that I grew tired of reading about in the coverage of jazz music in KC within the first year of being back home - it was the same people being hyped over and over.

However, if we want our scene to be greater than it already is, we should resist hyping the same people over and over.

Why? ...because such a dynamic is almost pitiful considering the depth of field among quite a good number of great musicians who are based here, especially considering we are such a relatively small jazz market. To feature (or write about) the same people over and over again is not right or objective.

The KC press could literally and objectively feature a different KC-based jazz artist every week (without repeating) and still not run out of musicians who are doing positive things for the music for a few years. That's what we artists and producers need (in terms of supporting what we are busting our tails doing artistically on this scene) from the skilled writers (like yourself), journalists and jazz press in KC... Why this is not happening, still baffles me...

As far as doing something new musically... just check out some of the music happening in New York and it will show that there are a lot of cats who have been doing this type of stuff musically for at least the last decade or so - it is new to Kansas City, yes, based upon what I have seen developing here musically over the past eight years being on this scene...

New music? The future of jazz? Bah, humbug (in context here). Musicians like (even the late) Andrew Hill, Ron Miles, Mark Turner, Jim Hall, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, David Binney, Dave Douglas, Michael Jefry Stevens, and on and on, should be considered before such sweeping statements about this music are made.

Those are all some of the names that have been around for a while doing the "future of the music" and many are/were mentors to some of the sounds being produced by those considered to be the "future" of the music in a lot of the posts here... listen to some of these artists too and you'll see what I mean...

I'm just sayin'... chill on the death knell-like 'jazz is dead' mantra for a while, it is discouraging more than motivating people to go out and check out what artists are creating today in the city.

I'm not saying do the KC rah, rah thing that typically goes on in the press here when it comes to pumping certain local artists and groups.

Certainly, bad economy aside, jazz is far from being dead - here or anywhere else. Even if you don't want to call it jazz any more, it ain't dead... ;)

Again, just my $0.02, keep up the great work, HIB...

Peace, Cb

Happy In Bag said...

I don't disagree with either of you, Cb and Anon.

What began as an innocent plug for Mark Lowrey's gig quickly devolved into an emotional editorial. Sometimes I can't help myself.


Intimate venues like the Blue Room and Jardine's are fantastic. But there's also something tremendously thrilling about being part of an electrified crowd of thousands. It's enormously frustrating that I can't experience that sensation when jazz is being played.

I'll be at the Diverse show Monday at the Record Bar if anyone cares to punch me in the face.

Anonymous said...

Passion is good. HIB, what you are doing is very vital to not only the KC scene, but also to the music at this point in history. A blog of this quality may cover the local scene, however it's impact is not really local in scope. Plastic Sax is a global publication and effectively uses the new media.

It would be cool if you could somehow join forces with JAM (or at least write for them) in terms of online publishing because the print version of JAM keeps getting smaller and smaller. This last issue has only one main article - wow... If the JA website were this dynamic, they could save some bucks and perhaps develop into a digital destination similar to what I saw All About Jazz grow into.


Apology not necessary...

My intent was not to come off hyper-critical or hyper-sensitive. Just offering my $0.02...

Peace, Cb

Happy In Bag said...

You're too kind, Cb.

Anyone can do what I do. Seemingly one out of every ten fans of indie rock maintains a music blog. It astounds me that more passionate jazz fans don't do the same thing. That's why I celebrated the arrival of KCJazzLark this year. It doubled the number of Kansas City's jazz blogs.

I founded Plastic Sax in 2007 because a complete listing of Kansas City jazz musicians didn't exist. So I made one. I then realized that I wasn't satisfied with just one weekly column from the incredible Joe Klopus. And while I have deep affection for the bimonthly JAM, its valuable role as a mouthpiece for various institutions differs greatly from the content at Plastic Sax.

The fact that only a handful of musicians have acknowledged Plastic Sax's existence bothers me far less than the regular ribbing I take from family and friends about the endeavor. The people close to me know that I invest a lot of energy in Plastic Sax without any financial reward.

You don't see any advertising here. I don't apply for grant money. Plastic Sax is an unadulterated labor of love. Accordingly, I'm a volunteer staff of one.

Anonymous said...

@HIB - three quick points and I'll stop monopolizing your blog...

1. I don't believe that "anyone can do what you do" - objectively, that is why most blogs are not very good at all.

2. Do you know that your last three paragraphs sound just like some of the reasons Michael Ricci started All About Jazz? - no kidding...

And 3., I think that more "jazz" musicians come here than may know (lurkers) without posting or interacting with your blog...

Happy Holidays!

Peace, Cb

WLIB said...

FYI - For folks like me who won't be in KC tonight, Diverse's show with Logan Richardson will stream live on Ustream 7-9 pm CST

Bag - Something tells me your face will get more kisses than punches.