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In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians

In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians
Steve Provizer By

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Despite the diminished status or popularity of jazz in the culture, these young people feel the music's power to move and uplift us. —Steve Provizer
I hear a lot about this entitled generation of kids. The lazy buggers don't woodshed for 12 hours a day learning Charlie Parker solos like we did. They don't give a hoot about blowing Cherokee in 12 keys.

And yet, those lazy buggers seem to be filling the halls of Berklee, North Texas State and a hundred other jazz programs. Are they walking down the halls of NEC listening to Kanye West and Beyonce? Probably, but Bird and Trane are also on their playlists. All you have to do is listen to the music being made by high school and college ensembles to see that the musicianship is off the charts.

So, what's gonna happen to this large cohort of trained jazz musicians?

The top 1-5% of players are likely to be recognized and able to make a living as performing musicians.

Other, very promising young musicians who have musical parents or who can plug into an extended musical family, may be fortunate enough to be nurtured by an informal mentoring system. This can lead to sitting in with already established players and/or introductions to important music industry contacts.

For the rest, gigs are unlikely to provide a steady income. Jobs paying a living wage in the field of music are limited: teaching, piano tuning, studio engineering. Or, you might try your luck overseas. The most likely scenario is taking a "day job" and doing music whenever you can.

Apart from offering poor employment options, jazz, for the most part, has lost its cache of cool, meaning this youthful cohort is drifting away from its hip hop/pop/techno-centric peer group like ice floes breaking off the polar cap. Add to all that how hard this difficult music is to master.

And yet, the music continues to draw in enthusiastic musicians. I see it as a testament to the enduring power of the music and not to the short-sightedness of youth. Despite the diminished status or popularity of jazz in the culture, these young people feel the music's power to move and uplift us. There's something very heartening in the idea that they recognize this and continue to aspire to fulfill the infinite potential of the music.

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