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Genius Guide to Jazz

The 9% Solution

By Published: December 4, 2003

Seriously, if we perceive pop fans as 15 year-old girls with cable modem attention spans, they perceive us as snotty elitists who traffic in obscurity like Chik-Fil-A traffics in, you know, Chik-Fil-A (they?re 15 years old, they haven't exactly perfected the art of the simile). Here's where I propose a diplomatic option. As a duly-authorized representative of jazz (I am, after all, the Dean of American Jazz Humorists®), I would be willing to meet with a representative for 15 year-old girls, such as the preternaturally attractive Hilary Duff of TV's Lizzie McGuire. We could meet at this little Italian place in Salem called Mama Maria's, over chicken saltimbocca and a carafe of Chianti—on second thought, maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea, having just consulted certain portions of the penal code of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Be that as it may.

Now that we know what the problems and difficulties facing us on both sides of the argument, perhaps it would be apropos to ask why there is an argument in the first place. Why would we want the sort of flash-burn hype lavished upon pop music, regardless of rationale? Why expose ourselves to the indignity of flavor-of-the-month status, the shallow and impatient notice of a group who apparently don't have enough concentration to dress themselves completely before leaving the house? All for just 9% of record sales, an ever-shrinking pie, the table scraps of an increasingly outmoded distribution system.

Gale Sayers, the great Chicago Bears running back, once said, "Just give me 18 inches of daylight. That's all I need." He wasn't bragging, he was that good. I'm saying that all jazz needs is 9%. That, combined with Sayers' 18 inches of daylight (he's not using it, he retired in 1970) should be enough to get jazz into the ears of even the most intransigent sort. Once there, all the tinselly blandishments of the temporarily fashionable will fall away and our music will do as it has done since the day jazz was invented by chemists at Eli Lilly and Company who were researching a cure for squareness.

Something must be said for the fact that people are still listening to Louis Armstrong almost eighty years after he started recording. Something must be said for the fact that there are brilliant young musicians out there still willing to pick up the banner even when they know that playing jazz will probably not earn them in a career even a fraction of what the average rap star earns before he is gunned down for being on the wrong side of that whole "Tastes Great, Less Filling" rhubarb. Something must be said for the fact that a known Genius like myself chose to make up silly nonsense for All About Jazz rather than taking a more lucrative gig making up silly nonsense for the New York Times.

That said.

In ultimate terms, the 9% Solution is less a manifesto for revolution than a subversive plot to use pop culture for the loud and empty vessel it is, a Trojan horse (or, more likely in these days of wallpaper sponsorships, a Trojan Bud Light Target Quiznos Nike AFLAC Southwest Airlines horse brought to you by Amazon.com). Once inside the psyche of the average American, can you imagine what the country would be like? It is a well-known fact that jazz fans are smarter, more affluent, and generally more attractive than average. It would be like a much hipper, multiethnic Sweden with better food and virtually no chance of another Abba.

So here we are, a modest suggestion for the propagation of our music by insidious means that could result in either a complete betterment of society, another boneheaded reality TV show, a period of incarceration at least ten but not to exceed twenty years, or a flood of indignant e-mails from 15 year-old girls all over the country who think I'm probably making fun of them somewhere in the midst of all those big words. My work here is done.

Till next month, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.



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