Death, Rebirth & New Revolution
The challenges are greater still for Asian artists attempting to crack Europe or America in light of a growing trend among promoters to rebook artists as long as they have new projects to offer. Perhaps this is just a sign of the times, where attention spans are so short that the BBC offers a one-minute summary of the world news, where Twitter has replaced serious communication and where innovation in technology advances with dizzying speed.
In 2012, I interviewed French clarinetist Louis Sclavis and he had this to say: "One thing which has changed a lot is the situation of musicians today, and this has a big consequence on the music. Fifteen, twenty years ago, when you had a project, you could play forty concerts throughout Europe with your band. You could play your music often. You could really play it and develop it. It was possible to go really deep into your music. Today, you have ten or twenty concerts maximum, sometimes fewer. So you cannot think about the music in the same way, and this has changed music a lot. You cannot develop your project as you could twenty years ago.
"My first group played together for twelve or thirteen years," said Sclavis, "these days, after three or four years it's over, and you are obliged to change because the promoters always ask you to bring something new every timenew musicians and new projects. I think it's more difficult for musicians these days to develop their own way."
Guitarist Alex Machacek, one of the most innovative musicians/composers today, agrees: "There are many festivals that only want to have a premiere of something. But the funny thing is that these people are always talking about bands and whenever the name Weather Report comes up they all get glassy eyed. There were lineup changes but that was a band. I feel that nowadays, with the concept of having to come up with new stuff all the time, a band doesn't really have the chance to develop its personal sound anymore because you have to be a new project every time."
Yet in spite of these challenges there must surely be reason for optimism, for the times that we live in offer opportunities to musicians as never before. At the Live! Singapore conference in 2010, Zarin Mehta, President and Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic spoke of "the most extraordinary means of propagating our art," and All About Jazz and its sister site, Jazz Near Youpotentially the greatest jazz listings site ever createdare examples of what Mehta was referring to. In the globally changing market, social networking and web-generated business are undoubtedly the greatest forces of the future and the way forward for many musicians to find a way into previously distant or inaccessible markets.
Since the 1980s we have also witnessed a revolution in the way jazz is recorded and marketed. The music has gone from being captured in the studio to being manufactured in the studio. These days almost anyone can produce a CD, and a dozen musicians can record their individual parts in a dozen different locations around the world and together produce a group performance.
However, technology has always been a double-edged sword. In the same interview with guitarist Alex Machacek he observed: "Sometimes I think music kind of loses its value because you can steal it and it's easy to steal. Everything that can be digitalized is basically up on the internet in no time. Sometimes I have email exchanges or blog exchanges where people confront me with the thought that music is free. Well, if it's free then I don't know how to make a living.
"There's an entire generation growing up really thinking that everything is for free," Machacek continued, "I would like to put the thought in people's heads that hey, it's not for free. The next argument is 'I'm just downloading it to see if I like it,' but how many people who already have the music on their iPod will really go and buy it? This is the reason that I have to work super low-budget so there's a chance that I can recoup; I'm not even talking about profit, I'm talking about covering my losses. I always say, 'well, if you're so into sharing why don't you share your girlfriend with me?' Or, 'I'm in town, let me use your car,' or whatever. But people say 'Oh, it's just music.'"
One of the great ironies of easy self-production and distribution is that whilst almost anybody can now produce a CD, and the number of independently produced CDs has soared in the last decade; the jazz industry cannot support and accommodate most of them. There are too many to listen to, too many to review, and not enough venues for musicians to play. And if that sounds defeatist, then I would like to share with you once again the words of Zarin Mehta, President and Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic, who struck a resonating chord with the audience at the Live! Singapore conference in 2010 when he said: "Great music will always find a foothold."
If the past century is anything to go by, then the jazz considered radical, avant-garde or controversial today will be mainstream practice 25 years from now. New technologies will further revolutionize music making, for good no doubt as well as for bad. And who knows? Perhaps Korean boy-bands will be playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival. What's sure is that people everywherefrom New York to Beijing, and from Paris to Bergenwill still be arguing over the health of jazz and from where the next revolution is coming.
Page 1, Top: Pein Lee/Sarawak Tourism Board
Page 1, Bottom: Hans Kumpf
Page 2, Top: Courtesy of Bill Bruford
Page 2, Bottom: Sergio Miro
Page 4: Ian Patterson
Page 5: Courtesy of Alex Machacek