If you were one of the many surprised by Esperanza Spalding
's upset of teen sensation Justin Bieber for Best New Artist at the most recent Grammy Awards, then you may be missing out on one of the most promising developments in Jazz since the advent of the Flapper. Turns out that modern teenagers, sick of cloying Auto-Tuned "singing" and repetitive "uhn-chik uhn-chik uhn-chik" dance rhythms, are increasingly turning to Jazz as a remedy to the bland, soulless pop they're being offered by traditional purveyors of Top Forty tunes.
At Alleghany High School in Low Moor, Virginia, 15 year-old sophomore Tiffany Weldmanherself sporting an approximation of Esperanza Spalding's distinctive hairdogives a quick rundown of the various Jazz-influenced cliques that have formed at this mostly rural high school.
"Over there, you have the Sinatras." she says, pointing to a table filled with young men wearing white dinner jackets with fashionably untied bowties hanging loose and young ladies wearing cocktail dresses and elbow-length satin gloves. The boys sip Jack Daniel's-colored apple juice out of rocks glasses, while the girls nurse virgin Manhattans.
"And those are the BeBoppers." she says, pointing to several kids crowded around a smallish table wearing sharkskin suits and porkpie hats, loading up on Red Bull to mimic the shakes and sweats of heroin withdrawal.
"The Seventies Fusion kids call themselves the Bitches Brew, but we call them Steely Dans. 'Cause they're really more jazz rock than Fusion." she explains, pointing to a relatively unmotivated-looking group of adolescents wearing corduroy pants and Earth shoes.
While Jazz has always had a small following among teens looking for something different to stand out from their peers, its impact was usually limited to a handful of band geeks and wannabe hipsters. Now, it seems, Jazz is finding a mainstream audience among the coveted teen demographic. A thumb-trip through the average teen's iPod playlist is just as likely to turn up Lady Day as it is Lady Gaga.
Some record executives are stunned by this development. "We're stunned by this development." says Richard Pasko, an executive with Some Records, a small jazz label known primarily for re-releasing anniversary editions of the same album every five years.
Others are hopeful, but reserved. "Sure it's good for jazz in the short term, but youth culture has always been transient and fickle. I mean, look at Vanilla Ice; where's he at now?" said Vanilla Ice, from an undisclosed location.
Our guide Tiffany takes a philosophical view of the whole thing. "Look, I'm fifteen. I don't know what I'm going to be into the whole rest of my life. I mean, two years ago, my whole life revolved around Twilight
, until I realized that sparkling vampires were just stupid. I do know that Jazz just, you know, feels more real. It's nice to hear actual people playing actual instruments for once."
Even if the current Jazz craze amongst youngsters doesn't stick, it may at least serve to raise their expectations for future iterations of popular music. As one of the Brylcreemed Sinatras put it, "How can you listen to Nickelback again after you've heard Ol' Blue Eyes?"