Who Listens to Jazz
There is an old Indian legend about several blind men examining an elephant. Each examines a different part of the creature and comes to a completely dissimilar conclusion as to what it is. Then the elephant, in a state of musth, stomps the helpless bastards to death to get at a '67 VW Microbus he mistakes for a particularly attractive female. The moral of the story is not to let handicapped people screw around with elephants.
But like that story, where each man forms his own opinion of what he is encountering based on his limited experience of it and thus seals his own doom, there is more than one moral which may be derived from this fable.
Bear with me, kids, I'm going somewhere with this.
Ask the average Joe (not Joe Pass, obviously) what kind of person listens to Jazz, and you are likely to get a blind-man-meets-elephant response. The top two responses will likely be "middle-aged, middle-class white guys" and "pretentious hipster kids who think obscure underground bands with names like Shrödinger's Quantum Litterbox are still too mainstream."
Obviously, stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason. There is a certain percentage of middle-aged white guys driving around in Toyota Prius's listening to Larry Carlton on their way to get a cup of organic shade-grown fair trade coffee. And there are more than enough faux-hemians out there, listening to Medeski, Martin & Wood through their iPod earbuds as they serve cups of organic shade-grown fair trade coffee to middle-aged white guys.
If Our Music were simply the province of two very distinct subgroups of individuals, then it would be no more significant to the American discussion than NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Racing or that horrid green bean casserole that no one seems to like but everyone brings to holiday gatherings. Have you seen a website called AllAboutGreenBeanCasserole.com?
My point being.
For Jazz to have endured and prospered for as long as it has, and under the conditions it has, there must be something to it. Its appeal must extend beyond just a few well-defined partisans. Though I hesitate to use the word "diversity," it is precisely the real multeity of individuals who keep Jazz alive and in relatively good health (though, at our last check-up, Jazz's cholesterol was a bit high).
So then, we come to the point of this whole article: Who listens to Jazz?
The short answer is, there is no short answer. There are as many different types of Jazz lovers as there are varieties of mustard, hot sauce and salad dressing in the 'Dome's inexplicable condiment collection. And I have six different varieties of Tabasco sauce alone. Jazz fans run the gamut from plain yellow mustard to a whole grain Dijon, from Frank's Red Hot to El Yucateco Kubit-ik sauce, from ranch dressing to Parmesan garlic ranch dressing.
But if there is one common thread among Jazz fans, it would be that they are of at least slightly above-average intelligence. Dumb people don't listen to Jazz. I hate to sound harsh, but that's a fact. And I don't have to worry about dumb people taking offense to that statement because they're all over at TMZ waiting for Lindsay Lohan to do something (else) stupid. Because there are few things dumb people love more than watching other dumb people do dumb things (see also, Jersey Shore).
To say that all smart people like the same things is as ridiculous as saying that all tall people are good at basketball. Abraham Lincoln (6'4," which was Shaq for the time) had an absolutely horrible turn-around jumper, and was virtually useless in the paint. But, in all fairness, Shaq can't hit a free throw to save his life and the Gettysburg Address being recited by third graders over a cassette tape of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" would still make better listening than Shaq Diesel.
So to recap what has transpired thusfar: all Jazz fans are smart, not all smart people like Jazz, a variety of people enjoy different things (who knew?), and no one actually likes green bean casserole.
What I'm saying is.
In fact, it could be argued (by me, here) that I am the very embodiment of all of the contrasts that add such a richness to the tapestry of Our Music. I was born in the backwoods of Kentucky to West Virginia hillbillies, and raised in the mountains of Virginia. And while the South has contributed disproportionately to the purview of American music, this general area is more known for banjo-driven songs about trains than free-form explorations of tonal space.