Monday, April 26, 2010
Do You Realize?
I thought about jazz during Friday's concert by The Flaming Lips in Bonner Springs, Kansas.
It didn't cross my mind as confetti rained on me. I didn't think about it as the band's vocalist scurried over my head in an inflatable hamster ball. And I forgot about it when images of naked women were projected on the screen behind the stage.
But when the Oklahomans ponderously slogged through Pink Floyd-style jams I wondered why so few jazz artists incorporate crowd-pleasing theatrical elements into their live presentations. I love the Flaming Lips but I'll be the first to admit that they're not exactly the greatest band in the world. That didn't stop almost 5,000 people from paying $35 to $40 to partake of the band's generous spirit and spectacular stage show.
Look at the picture I took Friday. Then look at the image I captured of Lionel Loueke's appearance at the Blue Room last November. Which show looks like more fun?
There's a catch. The fifty people at Loueke's performance heard better music. Loueke's refreshing fusion of indigenous African music, pop and jazz is instantly accessible. I suppose it's a little more esoteric than the bombast of the Flaming Lips but I refuse to believe that one out of twenty Flaming Lips fans wouldn't be completely down with Loueke's slightly psychedelic sound if they only knew of him. I'm simply not willing to accept the tired adage that jazz is too sophisticated for the average person.
Just like jazz musicians, the Flaming Lips are largely ignored by radio and music television. What gives? It's no mystery- the Flaming Lips put on a show. Two acts with Kansas City connections are also addressing the expectations of today's audiences.
Dave Stephens has created what he calls a "jazz circus." Watch this representative video. A lot of uptight jazz snobs (I'm one of them) roll their eyes at Stephens' antics, but his routine has made him one of this town's most successful entertainers.
Another Kansas City act with an emphasis on presentation is Quixotic. As seen in this video, Quixotic's Cirque du Soleil sensibility is astounding.
Quixotic, Dave Stephens and yes, even the Flaming Lips, represent the competition for jazz musicians. I'm not suggesting that exotic dancers and freaky videos are the solution to jazz's dwindling popularity. But business as usual clearly isn't working.
Projecting Sam Peckinpah films behind 81-year-old pianist Hank Jones obviously wouldn't work. But what does a young act have to lose? I believe there's an audience eager to embrace jazz musicians who are willing to acknowledge that it's 2010.
(Original images by Plastic Sax.)