WHO listens to jazz these days? Besides a small, dwindling number of purists, almost anyone who goes to a chain coffee shop, it seems. Are they really listening? Those are some of the questions music historian Ted Gioia gets into in a fascinating essay in The Daily Beast, in which he talks about the mostly mid-century jazz that plays in Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and, soon, Peet’s:
What’s going on here? Even as total album sales shrink, jazz shrinks faster—and now represents a tiny 2 percent of album purchases. Many high-profile jazz artists struggle to sell more than 10,000 copies of their new releases. Yet as jazz disappears from the mainstream culture, it dominates the ambiance at eateries, and especially coffee shops.
It’s happening, he expects, because jazz now signifies “classy” in commercial settings.
Some day a smart cultural historian will trace how this happened, and it will certainl be a strange and surprising story. Jazz originated as the music of the underclass and the impoverished, but these days you hear it in the background of commercials for luxury cars and other high-end merchandise. Jazz is perceived as the music of the educated—and what an amazing attitudinal change that is! When I was learning about the music, it was excluded from most schools and universities. During my 21 years of formal education, not one of the institutions I attended had a jazz studies program.
We’re left with the question of whether this is good or bad for the music. Ted thinks, for instance, that jazz has won the battle to seem “culturally significant,” but that it’s traded that for its former reputation for pleasure.
And jazz’s status as coffee achiever is happening in a time in which it’s hard to find jazz on the radio, on television, or anywhere else outside the realm of specialists.
This piece had a lot of depth – please check it out.Related