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How to Make Jazz Appeal to the MTV Generation

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of making jazz appeal to the MTV generation, which pretty much explains the title of the article. Consider that my experience with MTV pretty much ends on that fateful day in 1986 when, as a cooler-than-that college student, I turned on the TV and suddenly realized that popular music had turned completely to Dave Koz CD’s (I’ll be employing that euphemism for excrement during the course of this article because I don’t want to wail on Kenny G all of the time and perhaps accidentally inspire sympathy for him).

Being the astute observer of popular culture that I am, though (I am even known to use such popular catchphrases as “yo” and “dude,” sometimes even in the same sentence like just now), I’ve come to the conclusion that youth culture has never really changed since I was a spiky-haired, earring-wearing New Waver in the early eighties. The formula for capturing the young adult market remains the same as when I was a teen; make it loud and stupid, cover it with a gooey layer of sex, and douse it with alcohol. Of course, it goes without saying (apparently it doesn’t, since I’m saying it) that you must decorate the whole package with the tinselly blandishments of the moment.


Here are a few suggestions to make jazz appeal to a new generation. And before any of you go into a fit of hand-wringing over the proposed changes, remember that youth culture is, above all else, temporary.

  • Give John Coltrane a cool rap name, like J Col' T or Trane Daddy.

  • Norah Jones + tube top = problem solved.

  • Have Wynton Marsalis smash his trumpet at the end of a show.

  • Have Kenny G smash his saxophone. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

  • Persuade disenfranchised Deadheads to follow Ornette Coleman.

  • Attention Jazz Musicians: Would it kill one of you to trash a hotel room every once in a while?

  • Institute the “play a chorus, do a shot” rule.

  • Playing on the knee-jerk defiance of the teen set, get parents to forbid them to listen to jazz. We’ll have them say that there are backwards messages in Thelonious Monk tunes (who’s to say there aren’t? Or forward messages, for that matter. Who can tell?), or that listening to Coltrane causes pre-marital sex (actually...).

  • The prestigious Playboy Jazz Festival too high tone for the average young adult? How about the Jazz ‘n’ Juggs Festival?

  • Take Hard Bop, amplify it to ear-bleeding levels, and call it Jazzcore.

  • Just as Patsy Cline did for country and Buddy Holly did for rock, can we get a famous jazz musician to take one for the team and die in a tragic plane crash? It’s a tried-and-true formula, and the resultant memorial jam would be monster.

  • If there was just some way to link Jennifer Lopez with Miles Davis...

  • Snoop Dog and Brad Mehldau host Peering into the Metaphyshizzical. Viewers get to call in and see if they can guess what the hell either one of them is saying.

  • Jessica Simpson's Jazz Casual. Can't get enough of the emptyheaded pop songstress as she bravely struggles with life's mysteries (like whether Chicken of the Sea tuna is actually chicken, or fish)? Wait till she's confronted with some of the greatest moments in jazz history. Highlights include when Sonny Rollins has to explain to her that heroin is not a female superhero.

  • Assembly Line. Keith Jarret plays it, Moby samples it, 50 Cent raps over it, and Stanley Crouch has to be heavily sedated.

So there we are, a few suggestions to help introduce our music to another generation and a heaping helping of controversy in insure enough snotty, indignant e-mails to keep my Outlook filters working overtime. Enjoy.


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