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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Opinion/Editorial

Bridges vs. Walls

By Published: April 17, 2012
So, in one way, jazz did indeed die in 1959. It certainly hasn't been the same since. If you see jazz as a singular style consisting of straight ahead acoustic bop—then it never got any better than Miles's Kind of Blue, Brubeck's Time Out or Coltrane's Giant Steps. If that is all that jazz is or ever was—that would be enough. However, it didn't stop there... it continued to grow and change, just as it had for the 50 years previous to those definitive albums. Indeed, it had taken jazz 64 years to rise to that point of perfection.

In an effort to "free" jazz from its limitations, some artists tried removing all boundaries in the early 1960's—including rhythm and melody—creating avant-garde, expressionistic and free styles which served to further alienate the public... and even pushing away those that had been fans of the straight ahead styles of the post-swing era.

The popularity of soul music and R&B in the 1960's cut across cultural lines for a time, and—though seen as separate from the jazz from which it was spawned—it returned to the Continuum to give bop back some of the groove it had lost.

The 1970s saw a fusion of styles harkening back to the beginnings of jazz—when the various cultures and musical styles in America came together to create something new, fresh and unique. Contemporary jazz began to embrace elements of funk, soul, R&B, disco, rock, heavy metal, country, folk, and flavors from around the world. All the styles that had grown from its roots came back to reinvigorate the foundations from which they had sprung. Many embraced the various styles of jazz fusion, and the popular offshoots of the Continuum that went by a hundred different names—but "jazz" had gained the earlier reputation as a singular genre unwilling and unable to play nice with others. Thus, many couldn't recognize the roots, because the root had rejected and redefined its own offspring.

Musicians, critics, promoters, publicist, record execs and industry insiders argued over what to call each new style. Their primary concern was how to sell new singles and new artists to a public that cared less and less about tradition, artistry or creativity. The general public really didn't care how the music was created; they were oblivious to the skill of the musicians or composers, or where any of it came from. They just knew what they liked based on what their peer group deemed as cool, and what the industry had forced into their eardrums via repetition. If you hear a song or style enough times you will start to like it... even if there is very little to like.

Musical styles became intensely focused on consumer demographics, which were easily manipulated by the music industry. The unaware masses eagerly devoured whatever flavor was fed to them via loud electric instruments played by long-haired musicians wearing the latest fashions. America's music was successfully rebranded with the British invasion—and all vestiges of its forefathers were purged from the charts.

Ironically, it was the British rock artists that awakened an awareness of the black roots of rock music in America—and caused a surge of popular interest in blues, soul and R&B, which of course were all part of the Jazz Continuum.

Records labels and radio stations forced a divorce between popular music and artistry... replacing melodic and rhythmic complexity with repeated hooks. Musicianship and composition were eliminated in acquiescence to celebrity worship, fashion, trends, and anything else that could sell records via their association.

America may have been de-segregated in the 1960's, but music remained the last bastion of racial and cultural division. While races and cultures might have mingled at the same schools, jobs, and neighborhoods—musical labels kept the cultures far removed from each other.

At my predominately white high school everyone listened to rock, pop, country or heavy metal... whereas the jazz, funk and soul that I was digging was mocked as "black music" or lumped into the category of "disco."

Disco did try to revive the popularity of jazz—but the improvisation got lost amidst the monotonous beats... and once again, the style was a pale imitation of the funk and soul from which it was spawned.

Even though every style of "white music" had indeed evolved out of "black" culture —the links and connections had been severed. The Jazz Continuum was still evolving and growing into ever new styles of pop music, but no one saw or cared about the influences. Musicians were still baking with the same ingredients—but the industry gave their product new names, catering to new demographics, and ignoring the common ingredients and recipes they all shared.


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