Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reaching Out with Shades of Jade and Vijay Iyer

The credulous questions posed by prominent Kansas City-based jazz artists dripped with skepticism last Thursday at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.   Shades of Jade was hosting an event billed as a "Youth Education Program to expose people of ages (15-28) of the relevance of Jazz music in our mainstream society and in their local community." 

A bassist questioned Shades of Jade's decision to stray from the conventional Kansas City sound.   A saxophonist wondered why Shades of Jade favored odd meters.  A vocalist rephrased his question this way- "He wants to know why you don't swing."  I was simply delighted by the opportunity to interact with the members of one of the region's most exciting bands at one of the world's most significant jazz institutions.  About two dozen people attended the event. 

Bandleader and trumpeter Josh Williams professed his admiration for Sean Jones while keyboardist Eddie Moore spoke highly of Robert Glasper.  No surprises there.  But I was thrown by bassist Dominique Sanders' shout-out to Modest Mussorgsky and drummer Julian Goff's reference to Terry Bozzio.  The members of the quartet aren't just exceedingly bright.  Their unorthodox perspectives- free from the limitations that the conservative jazz orthodoxy would impose on them- represent refreshing new artistic and commercial possibilities for the music. 

The program was particularly interesting in light of the dustup surrounding a controversial essay in the Seattle Weekly titled "Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification of Jazz."  Chris Kornelis suggests that Iyer's frequent outreach programs are futile inasmuch as "jazz lacks broad appreciation outside academia because of artists like Iyer and albums like Accelerando.  The album is fascinating, richly textured, adventurous, and full of ideas.  But it's completely inaccessible to listeners not predisposed to appreciate jazz." 

Kornelis has a point.  I witnessed the Vijay Iyer Trio's mind-bending performance at the Folly Theater on October 19.  Given the enormous (and entirely deserved) acclaim accorded the artist, all 1,050 seats should have been filled for Iyer's Kansas City debut.  Yet only 300 people attended.  A few disgruntled patrons left at intermission. 

What the hell is going on?  I think I know.

The jazz being made in 2012 can be placed in one of three categories.  The mainstream, swing-based jazz exemplified by Wynton Marsalis at the international level and in Kansas City by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is becoming incrementally less popular.  Once everyone born before 1960 dies, the ongoing attrition of support for the sound will finally cease.  Swing-based jazz will never die, but I expect it to take a permanent seat next to Dixieland on the cultural sidelines by 2042.

The progressive art-jazz played by Iyer, Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas and The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City will continue apace.  It seems incapable of attracting large crowds in the United States, but the creative explorations of adventurous musicians will never be silenced.

The final category is the groove-based jazz that incorporates funk, R&B and hip hop.  Glasper, Shades of Jade and even the entirety of the smooth jazz realm represent this grouping. The strain is jazz's best hope to regain a sizable audience.  Anyone who can get their head around the idea of Erykah Badu as a jazz vocalist and J Dilla as the Max Roach of his generation will agree.  The Next Collective, featuring the likes of Christian Scott and Kansas City's Logan Richardson, just issued a cover of "No Church in the Wild."  That's change I can believe in.

Of course, most artists can't be neatly pigeonholed.  Esperanza Spalding and Kansas City's Diverse, for instance, freely jump between my somewhat arbitrary classifications. 

I hope Iyer, Shades of Jade and jazz artists at every level continue to engage in "outreachification."  Perhaps such efforts will disprove my bleak prognosis.   In the meantime, I'll forward this missive to a person with skin in the game who asked me why Iyer failed to attract a larger audience in Kansas City.  Plastic Sax, after all, is yet another form of "outreachification." 

(Original image captured at an institution of higher learning by Plastic Sax.)


Clint Ashlock said...

To say that the "final category is groove-based jazz that incorporates funk, R&B and hip hop" is pretty limiting, and even more limiting to suggest that it is the only viable form to move the genre ahead is a bit close-minded. I mean, I'm certain people said the same thing in the '70s in respect to the music on CTI and other, at the time, forward-thinking labels.

Humbly, I'd suggest that what moves the music forward is a conscious effort by the artists to play music that engages an audience, on many different levels. Look at Diverse, look at Bobby: those guys are playing music informed by the deep past (Hermon's love for the New Orleans tradition, Bobby's admiration for Johnny Hodges, among much much more), are playing music that is every bit as progressive as Dave Douglas and Vijay Iyer (maybe not overtly, but the "progressiveness" is there throughout), and, along with incorporating funk/R&B/hip-hop, are drawing from EVERY other music they've heard, every style.

Jazz is really just another form of eclecticism. Trying to claim that we "know" what's happening just can't be honestly stated.

My mediocre $.02.

Mike said...

Well said Clint. I wonder if University of North Texas, UNC and all the lab band programs across the continent are diminishing?

Most of the players in Clints big band were born post 1960 and at least half of the KCJO were born post 1960. Does that mean anything?

One of the things I've noticed is that many of the younger generation players don't know 90% of the repertoire body of work that jazz has embraced for 100 years. Watch them pull out their smart phones and read/transpose the music right off their phones.

I guess the music is not relevant to them. Good thing we've got food stamps and social programs in place. They have served me well.

Anonymous said...

I was right with you Clint until you claimed that Bobby and Hermon are as progressive as Dave and Vijay.

That's simply not true but I'd be interested in what you mean by the "progressiveness throughout."

Otherwise I agree with you.

Joshua Williams said...

Mike is right, the youth will never truly relate to that music 100 years ago or even 50 years ago (they weren't there...sometimes neither were their parents...) time/technology in the past decade have changed society into a more rapid pace of fluid evolution in regards of trends and culture. Some concepts will carry over but there is NO way everything will get transferred to the next generation, therefore we must hold on to the importance of the essence of what the music is and move on to inspire the next gen to be as creative as possible to keep pushing the music forward to keep it from becoming stagnant.

Anonymous said...

Jazz is irrelevant in todays society....and most people would say it sucks. Which could be true. Why hold on and try and keep something that is 100 years old. Most everything else that is 100 years old is broken, trash or not remembered. Also everything else that is 100 years old has CHANGED!! Cars...Phones..Money...Clothing styles..Segregation.. AND MUSIC!!! No point of holding on to the past that has ABSOLUTE no relevance today. People need to get over it and become original again, quit trying to sound like or pay respects to other people. Do you!!

Anonymous said...

Following your line of thought (Anon 12:29) then I guess classical music has no relevence today or literature or visual art that is "100 years old." Really???

Art Vandelay said...

Anon...thanks for cracking me up.

The invention of the wheel and electricity must be irrelevant too.
BTW I'll mention it to my to paleontologist friends and global warming folks. Or Christians.


Its not about holding on to the past. Its a heck of alot of fun and very challenging to play that type of music.

Most of the music of today is based on the major and minor tonal system created almost 500 years ago by Bach and Handel and the rest of those irrelavant hacks.

Anonymous said...

"This comment stream is about to get really bad" - The Point

"This comment stream is about to get really good." -The Internet

Russell Thorpe said...

whas all dis jibber jabber?

architecture stands the test of time, but only if its materials are quality. too bad you can't make people to the same standards and tolerances.

we are damn lucky to privileged enough to get to hem and haw on and on about this "important cultural artifact" or that "syncretic historical dialogue." not only are we privileged in ways no one 100 years ago could fathom, we are also much much weaker in the head for it.

people's memories used to be much better, but then some idiot priest in the hinterlands had to go and write shit down. its been all downhill ever since for things like oral tradition. which is, when you get down to it, what everyone wants J@$$ to still be when it is most obviously not. And neither is it an exclusive refuge or destination anymore. The redcoats are coming!!! the redcoats are coming!!

so ultimately it becomes a question of, can you get your shit together enough to sound like something nothing everything anything?

Costanza, you and your reducto ad absurdum can go blow some V7/ii - ii7 - V7 - I .

Matt Leifer said...

As to anon's comment and the responses to it...

I think it's safe to say that the primary base of readers of this blog are A) musicians or B) jazz fans, most of whom fall in to that born before 1960 category. Aside from the fact that it's obviously not the opinion of someone who would belong to category B, people born before 1960 have higher standards of grammar and generally present themselves in a more educated way.

So, since I would put money on Anon being a musician of some sort I'd deduce that either 1) everybody just was trolled, hard, or...

2) Anon is a musician, and a plebe, destined to continue on a course of musical mediocrity until he either dies or gives it up. (The former, if we're lucky.) Now, I'm not saying that musicians that don't play jazz are plebes, I'm saying that musicians who don't RESPECT jazz are destined for fucking failure. Whatever musical path someone is on, I don't think there's anyone worth a god damn who doesn't at least accept its validity and importance, whether or not they choose to be a practitioner of it. If you are that musically shallow and narrow minded, your music is going to suck.

I'm going to go with troll, however.

Michael said...

I agree with Clint, and even moreso, C. Leifer.