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Well said, Peter, with a healthy core and organic expansion and interaction with the surrounding layers, jazz will remain a cultural staple and catalyst for change. Let's all do our part in creating awareness and creative space - it's JAM.
I think it's good that there are positive signs developing on an institutional level, but to my way of thinking the only thing that will truly make the music relevant to the larger public is the flowering of informal venues across the U.S. I'm not referring about the dated concept of a "jazz club" either. I just mean good listening rooms where you can experience the music up close and without the formality of a concert hall. What these look like can and should vary by city and region.
So rather than all of the funds going to institutions that present concert hall shows, why not have some of the funds go toward individuals willing to run some proper listening rooms for the music? There are some great younger people out there doing jazz programming from a ad hoc/by committee approach to what venues they use or have to use. If these folks had permanent, ongoing spaces to work out of, I would expect their positive influence with programming would only be magnified.
Cities have plenty of vacant commercial spaces that could be viable listening rooms. Too often the rents are out of reach though. There has to be something to make up the difference to where a well-intentioned, creative programmer could at least get some kind of head start. Maybe 1st year rent free. Cities are constantly talking about the importance of the arts but I think so often, don't see where the grassroots level activity is just as important, if not more important, than the institutional stuff. The reality is, much the same kind of institutional arts programming occurs in every major U.S. city. The grassroots, however, is where cities can truly develop identities of their own.
I think Gerard gets it right. It used to be there were 'sounds' relative to the city that the particular musicians were from. The 'Philly sound' or the way that swing from K.C was so deep and influenced by the blues.
But most of all, got to get the music OUT of the schools. Those institutions should be the launching point of great artists and careers in music entertainment. I find it sad that much like a college athlete who will never turn pro that after school there really isn't much waiting for us out there in the 'real' world. I live in Europe now, so I find it a bit easier but even here cerebral playing has taken over any shred of soul or the tragedy of the jazz voice. I miss it deeply, good thing I have a good record collection and access to fine wine. :)
Well stated, Gerard and Brandon. Jazz’s longevity as a musical genre often belies the fact that it lives just as much in the present as it does in the past. Formal settings beget formal thinking, but fresh venues, as you’re suggesting, encourages a rethink of the jazz proposition. And we can expand our audience, if we switch up ways to discover our music, breaking down preconceptions of our art form. Presenters, arts councils, entrepreneurs, please take notice. Let’s pop the cork and curate jazz in innovative settings.
Well, let's take a look at the parameters of this article as stated in the title; from cultural staple to cultural imperative.
What does this mean?
A staple is, by common definition:
1. A principal raw material or commodity grown or produced in a region.
2. A major item of trade in steady demand.
Pasted from <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/staple>
An imperative is, by common definition:
a. A command; an order.
b. An obligation; a duty:
Pasted from <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/imperative>
I would venture that for some of us, jazz, like other musics and other human behaviors, is an expression, a gesture, an activity which in this case results in sound. It does not begin, nor is it fundamentally a commodity by nature. In that sense, it is not a staple, but an event. Some of these events are 'harvested' and commodified by producers.
This article, which is presented from a producer's point of view, is concerned with the social commodification of jazz and its place in the music marketplace. It's about commerce. That's fine. But how then do we get from the idea of an open 'free market' of musical product to the idea of a genre as 'cultural imperative'? What culture and by whose order?
There are many ancillary statements in this piece that I don't think I agree with, like:
"jazz was born as an "out of box" art form. It was the rejection of music norms which gave birth to our new language and form of expression." My history lesson says that jazz was born primarily from the fusion of African and European forms in the separatist context of slavery and Jim Crow, not as a rebellion against an entrenched musical institution. Some parts of it may have become that later, but that is different than having been born as such.
And I'm not so sure about "our national pride in its origin and its celebration as a major component in modern life."
Those are minor points. However, the conclusion that "Our goal needs to [be to] actively transform jazz from a cultural staple to a cultural imperative. A goal only achieved with everyone mobilized and heading in the same direction." I don't really like imperatives of any kind, especially ones which require everyone mobilized and heading in the same direction.
I don't think that approach will work. I would refer back to an addage by John Giorno. "If something is good, people like it" coupled with something that George Lewis said to me a decade or so ago when we were talking about this stuff over lunch; "The problem will be the same. How will people know about me?"
The rest takes care of itself without the need for consensus or imperatives.
Gerard Cox said: "I just mean good listening rooms where you can experience the music up close and without the formality of a concert hall. What these look like can and should vary by city and region."
I think Gerard is right on here. IMO, younger people (20-30 somethings) prefer to see/hear jazz in less formal spaces... even "funky" places. I wouldn't necessarily call Smalls (in NYC) funky, but it's the kind of room that I think younger listeners prefer. Smalls also has a youth/student friendly cover, so its affordable.
Here’s an alternate possible explanation and hints at a solution that mainly entails lowered expectations.
Once upon a time jazz came from the street. The supply of players was low and subject to chance and happenstance.
The latter half of the 20th century was marked by what may, in hindsight, be seen as a bloated distortion born of a bunch of happy coincidences, post war economic and cultural hegemony for America, cheap oil and a relative monopoly on innovation.
Then there was the demographic boomer bulge to meet the bloat. And new technologies to make sure stuff pumped into the system was utterly impossible to miss short of living off grid under a log.
It turned to arena scale rock and jazz sort of fed on the crumbs and spilled stuff. There was also alarming and unprecedented academic encroachment, in part fed by assumptions that we would forever live in an arena rock bloat world.
Boy was that ever dumb and now we have a 20 year ‘inventory’ overhang. This consists of a cohort between 30 and 60 years old who were fleeced by various music schools into thinking this was a career option rather than a pleasant thing to do for a concert or a good grounding for helping a batch of high school kids oomph their way through half time at the Thanksgiving day football game.
This bunch had to learn the hard way that dry wall, line cooking, software coding or whatever was a more sensible option than tooting a horn. Boston is full of em. And a few try to just do self perpetuation by , get this.. getting a job in a music school.. woo hoo!!
Basically the outcome has been horrible like the sorcerer's apprentice. And keep in mind, that’s just the US. At some point in time, maybe the 70s, jazz became like the friggin olympics with national cultures vying to compete and crank out even more of these music school refugees.
I use a trout metaphor. Most avid stream trout fishermen yearn for remote streams with wily fish that were actually born in them. Wealthy fishing fans will pay big bucks to get dumped in the sticks of Siberia to snake Arctic Char from an unspoiled stream.
But most trout fishing in the urban states of the US, like Massachusetts, where I live, load the streams with dazed hatchery fish. Old school Jazz is like that overlooked stream and our present reality is like a fishing trade show with a large swimming pool thing loaded with addled fish and surrounded by hundreds of screeching kids and their parents flailing with fishing poles.
The thing I love about AAJ and its whole purpose is we are here to help all those fleeced music school souls who still strive and find their ways in their local music situations. We don’t waste time trying to be influential like all the old hack jazz media, instead, we bust our asses trying to hand all these people, (anyone in this neck of music really), an amazing and generous suite of free web tools in a teeming music web ecosystem of its own with nearly a million users a month. And we are still the only ones doing it and the only ones with any insight or passion for it.
The hacks just simulate crappy versions for shrinking user bases and now increasingly descend into panic as their musty stuff dries up. They waste time trying to pick winners. They struggle to hold a dying world together as we try and support the one being born.
After all the nonsense the music school refugees survived, we’re here to give em something to work with. We’d rather be helpful than influential.
It’s the Google model. Google got huge because it has lots of useful web stuff. Yahoo is on the ropes because it assumed people gave a shit about its opinions.
And keep in mind, one reason we are in this mess is due to the foolish notion that America will ever have any imperative beyond money grubbing. It ain't Europe.
So much of the 'work' applied to jazz has a cargo cult quality, waiting for that plane of national institutional recognition that never quite lands.
Oh and I looked up tuition at Boston's main offenders. Both diploma mills will stick you with more than 120 grand worth of debt... for what?
You and Jazz would be better served if you just took 10 grand and handed it to your favorite old jazz musician for conversations, pointers and thoughts on life. It was good enough for Bird.
I think focusing on jazz alone is to miss the big picture. All arts are in the same situation, and suffer from the same problems. It's not just a jazz issue, it's an arts issue. I don't think the solution will be a jazz solution, it has to address all the arts.
Value in the marketplace is based on need or desirability, and scarcity. Art doesn't meet the criteria to sustain itself. It needs help from outside. In other words, it needs to beg for money from wealthy people and institutions. Grassroots patronage will never meet the need.
To be clear, I don't propose trying to develop the grassroots end of programming and activity as a magic bullet that will cure all of our ails. I do however believe that it could really help to open things up and make for a more fluid situation in general.
The public perception of jazz is simply not going to change through institutional programming. The cost of entry is too high and many people are turned off by the idea of spending their evening at a concert hall in a cramped bucket seat. The experience itself is very self-selecting.
I think there's something much more fulfilling, accessible and dynamic about having local listening rooms where you can witness locals developing their thing and also, interacting with people passing through town. I remember Joe Lovano in an interview lamenting how this interaction between locals and touring folks has dropped off so hard. This seems to have been a really important part of the jazz culture of old, one which made for some really textured interaction between musicians and listeners across the country. As a general principle, having both quality and frequency of interaction (between all involved- musicians + listeners) is what makes for a dynamic situation. We're not going to have that depth of interaction again until we have environments that actively facilitate it though.
Very few people are going to want to try and establish a grassroots venue though, I recognize that. I'm a little surprised however that there isn't more in the way of jazz musicians and music lovers trying to collectively finance and operate venues. There was a movement for this with the loft scene in the 70s but it seems like people are content to say that was just some hippie ideal relevant to the loft scene. It's not just a collective ideal though; it can be a viable business model for trying to sustain something with risks spread around. Look outside of jazz though and you see this is something that is fairly common in the DIY/punk scene today. They make a lot of things happen collectively. Unfortunately, I think too many jazz musicians are stuck in the very dated paradigm of "waiting for the phone call about a gig" and thus settling for mediocre bar gigs where they make 40 bucks for the night.
At this point, if anybody can't already see the writing on the wall, one is better off trying to create their own opportunities than in waiting for calls.
I think there are plenty of musicians and listeners who sincerely want the frequency and scope of the jazz & improv which happens in their town. There are probably jazz fans who have backgrounds in running small businesses, and law, that would be happy to volunteer their services to getting a grassroots venue off the ground.
I very well realize this is all easier said than done; however, as a generality I think it's high time we try to coordinate resources and collectively pursue any areas of consensus which exist. I think at the very least, this represents a theory of one possible solution to the rut we're in that has yet to be adequately tested.
Jane Ira Bloom
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