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Fulfilling what has been lacking...

AAJ Staff By

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Throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s, apprenticeship programs were readily available in this country; in order to learn, a musician could come up through the ranks with Art Blakey, Horace Silver, JJ Johnson, The Jazztet or Miles Davis.
By Mickey Bass

Jazz, as we once knew it, has become a thing of the past. For a lot of years clubs and promoters have been saying that this music is dead. My response to that statement is, "How can jazz be dead when its creators are still alive and well and creating?" In other words; if it ain't broke... we wish you wouldn'a fixed it...

Years ago if you turned on the radio, within five seconds you knew, without question, who was playing. That reality, of an immediately identifiable sound and persona, is a far cry from today. Today what we mostly hear are good arrangements, with all the right notes being played, but the music, on the whole, lacks the energy, the fire of that Golden Age.

In the last 30 years or so, thanks to the efforts of people like Quincy Jones, Dr. David Baker and T.S. Monk, the jazz studies programs throughout the scholastic system have led to a greater awareness of this music among young people. Yet, it seems that Europeans have always had a far greater awareness and appreciation for this American classic music, our national treasure.

Throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s, apprenticeship programs were readily available in this country; in order to learn, a musician could come up through the ranks with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Janice "Ms. JJ" Johnson, The Jazztet or Miles Davis. This type of incubator was the tradition, the road to learning and developing your own sound and voice.

At this point in time, what can we do to restore the integrity to this arena? How can we recreate those apprenticeship programs? Where are all the new John Coltranes, Miles Davises or any other innovators on the scene of this generation? How can we bring this great and totally unique music back up to the levels, the standards from which it should have never fallen? What can we do to encourage each individual to develop their own unique sound?

Too much of everything nowadays appears to be about following patterns. This is only part of it and can become formulaic; it produces a monotonous clone, rather than a spontaneous—brilliant—spark to the imagination. And therein lies the root of the problem.

What new pattern could be put in place would revive these standards, of recognition of greatness, of leadership and apprenticeship? At difficult times like these, the arts are needed more than ever because they reaffirm who we are as human beings.

In order for the music to retain its vitality there has to be new lifeblood. Clubs are doing tributes to many of those great artists who are sadly no longer with us, which is great, but how about honoring those who are still here in our midst and too seldom heard?

Don't talk about it, be about it! As a matter of fact we are doing just that, because I help curate the wonderful Jazz Legacy Series in a very nice environment at Creole in Harlem where all of those true giants are booked: Curtis Fuller, Charles Davis, James Spaulding, Lee Konitz, Grady Tate. We are keeping this jazz tradition alive with some of the original innovators, still alive and kickin'!

How can you lead, if you do not yet know how to follow? Who can you follow, if those great masters of this music are not being heard on the bandstand?

I love bebop. I grew up in and on it. I want to perpetuate it because many musical architects are no longer with us. There can be no future without a past, as far as the music is concerned.


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