The Future of Jazz; Critics Weigh In

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The Future of Jazz
Yuval Taylor, et al.
A Cappella Books
ISBN 1556524463

A new book, The Future of Jazz, (A Cappella Books, 219 pages), brings 10 critics together to discuss various aspects of the music, all with an eye toward the future. Vocal music, the impact of other nations, the music in general, the business side, and much more, are all discussed back and forth.

The unique part is that it was done with today's world-changing, but simple, technology — the immediacy of e-mail. These 10 respected critics each wrote an essay on a different topic, then the nine others responded to the points in the lead story. Sometimes the author even responded back. Because of the speed of e-mail, it made amassing these commentaries — then comments on the commentaries — much quicker that previously possible. The publishing must have gone fast too, because reading it, the book addresses people and things that are very recent.

By writing about the future of jazz, what there critics really provide is a look at where they think the music stands today. Because that has to be established first in order to pontificate about what trends or new events will appear on the horizon.

It's not a book for the casual jazz fan, perhaps, but those who take the music a bit more seriously, or are interested in music's place beyond just entertainment, will find it thought provoking.

And really, that's what it is: merely thought provoking. It offers different perspectives that are all viable. One critic says one thing, another says "yeah, but...," or "you got it wrong..."

That is not to put down these writers or the process. It's just the way it is when you put 10 different people into a mix. And that's one of the book's benefits — you get different views, different takes on things. Critics are, obviously, opinionated, and, for the most part, intelligent. (All of these 10 are intelligent...I won't address any others). You know the names: Will Freidwald, Ted Gioia, Jim Macnie, Peter Margasak, Stuart Nicholson, Ben Ratliff, John F. Swed, Greg Tate, Peter Watrous and K. Leander Williams.

Topics include jazz education, jazz and race, improvisation and composition, mainstream, free jazz, repertory jazz and jazz-rock.

Nothing is settled, any more than knowing who's better, Williams or DiMaggio? Who could pick it better at first, Mattingly or Keith Henderson? Wilt or Russell? The bar arguments aren't going to settle it, nor is The Sports Reporters on ESPN.

While reading, your mind does three things..."yeah, I agree...," "naw, he's wrong...," and, "hmm... Interesting. Never really thought about it like that." All three are good. It's like sitting in a room and listening to a round table discussion that stimulates the mind and you walk away feeling like you were challenged, like you were stimulated, and educated.

(My take on why jazz may not be as popular — in part, anyway — has a lot to do with the last sentence. The numbers of people in this society who want to be mentally stimulated, challenged and educated about anything, let alone art, have steadily dwindled. If you don't think so: Laverne and Shirley, Three's Company, Survivor. I rest my case, your honor).

The Future of Jazz discusses many elements, and its style makes it a strong document about the state of the art. If you just like your jazz the way you like it, and you don't care whether Dianna Krall has any elements of Ethel Waters or Ethel Merman, then forget it. But if you're intrigued by the philosophical arguments and sociological discussions this great music has spawned over the years, it's a good one to pick up.


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