Jazz “bloat” gone? Phoenix rising from ashes?

Forecasts vary in the wake of collapses of Jazz Times and the JVC Jazz Festivals. Brilliant Corners exults that mid-brow music is so over and revels in New York’s Vision Fest,  while Jazz Chronicles asks what comes next — possibly something good?

I think it’s irresponsible and delusional to believe that the demise of successful mainstream enterprises like magazines, commercial festivals and oh yes, the International Association for Jazz Education, another bete noir of Brilliant Corners’ Boston-based Chris Rich (along with many others: baby boomers, jazz fusion, George Wein, Boston Jazz Week) is
 

  • a) a good thing, and
  • b) won’t affect  smaller enterprises, whether individual musicians or collective avant-garde fests, not very far down the road. (Read Barbara Ehrenreich on the impact of the recession on the “already poor” and extrapolate: the Jazz Foundation of America is already trying to help more musicians in need with fewer dollars from donations).


My good friend James Hale of Jazz Chronicles, based in Ottawa, says
Canadian jazz is stable in ways the U.S.’s isn’t, citing TD Canada
Trust’
s “ongoing sponsorship” of north-of-the-border jazz fests. In the
same sentence he mentions General Motors’ withdrawal, even before it went bankrupt, from underwriting
the major Montreal jazz fest.

James reports also
that he’s gone over to what we joke about as “the dark side” (i.e. public relations),
taking a job as “media advisor” to the Ottawa Jazz Fest, at which we both spoke last summer on a panel we both organized via the Jazz Journalists Association. A music journalist of extensive professional experience and a
man of honor, Hale pledges to report from the inside of the fest for the
benefit of his readers, which I believe he’ll do retaining all his integrity.

As for his hopes for the future, they’re based in a bounce-back of jazz in the ’80s
he recalls, after a bad time in the ’70s:

I’m holding out for another upward swing, which will bring
a new model for many parts of our industry. What format will those
things take? I don’t think we can safely guess, any more than we
might’ve predicted 15 years ago that digital,
broadband technology would mean the destruction of the music industry
as we knew it then.

Now that’s optimism we can believe in. DNA for stubborn determination if not looking on the bright side is surely embedded in all jazz people. Though I personally tend to see glasses half-empty, it would be dandy if the future comes up roses. Which actually I know it will: For sure something good will happen, eventually, as long as we’re ready to recognize it.

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, accept what comes” seems like the operable adage. Ornette Coleman — who’s curating the open-minded, anti-genre  Meltdown Festival in London this week — titled a song and album, Tomorrow Is The Question! 50 years ago, and he’s still right.

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Comments

  1. CraigP says

    Somehow, and I know this has probably been stated ad nauseum, we’ve got to get improvised music to young(er) audiences. You can see it working in college towns; I remember good audiences in Chapel Hill for David Murray and David S. Ware. Once I took some of my high school friends to see Grover Washington in concert in the 70’s. They went reluctantly, but all thanked me afterwards.
    /improvisedblog.blogspot.com
    HM: The jazz education initiative is doing a job on that — high school programs have grown (which is why IAJE existed as it did) and college programs have proliferated. Whether they are teaching the jazz that people want to listen to is one question that might be taken up; whether the economy can support these educated jazz musicians is another. And there are more!

  2. TSJ says

    Jazz is simply in the ebb of one of its many tides. While the number of publications and radio stations dealing with jazz might be on the wane again, it’s certainly not going to be extinct in our lifetimes. There’s still an audience for 60s-era folk music, after all.
    The economy is probably the worst factor. It would help if there were more funds to get major jazz artists spread out across the country instead of staying concentrated in the big cities. There’s no possibility of David Murray ever showing up in my neck of the woods, despite a potentially strong audience, because no one around here would have the funds to pull it off. I hate L.A. and only venture there for the occasional jazz event, but with the price of gasoline on the rise again, that 65-mile trip is not going to happen anytime soon. Thankfully, local cats like Matt Zebley and Sandy Megas keep the jazz light burning in the public eye.
    It would also help if the labels that once stood tall in jazz meant anything anymore. After a long series of bad, bad decisions, Blue Note struck its death knell by signing the execrable Jaymay. They are lost to us. The Fantasy labels are just about a distant memory. And while a lot of smaller labels, from ArtistShare to Zoho, are producing fine music for the world, try finding any of their stuff in the brick-and-mortar stores. Even worse, most people can’t figure out how to even find this music online. How can you search for something when you don’t know it exists? But jazz has been through all this before and will be here again someday.

  3. says

    I am the biographer of Gene Krupa and producer/writer of the Hudson Music and Warner Bros. Publications “Jazz Legends” DVD seried (Gene, Buddy, Hamp, etc.).
    Having been in this industry as a writer, editor, producer, performer and editor since childhood, I still cannot figure out what happened to Jazz Times.
    I’ve long described it as the jazz magazine of record–which angered some in the industry–if only because the finest writers, critics and musicologists in the history of this music were among the contributors.
    How DownBeat, Jazziz and strangely, Jazz Improv, continue to publish–given the demise of Jazz Times–is sadly, beyond me.
    HM: The mysteries of publishing are just that, mysteries. But DB, now 75 years old, has established an advertising base among instrument manufacturers — not least of all through its sister publication UpBeat, a trade journal for that industry — and began promoting itself in jazz education circles back in the ’60s, before the other publications you mention were even conceived. DB also has strong subscription circulation in US libraries, both here and abroad (military and State dept. installations included). Jazziz, I’m told, is now publishing “a bigger and better issue” every three months, rather than monthly; its website seems to be under renovation. Jazz Improv is a labor of intense love and work by its dedicated staff and entrepreneurial publisher. The continuation of those periodicals is by no means guaranteed, but neither have rumors of their imminent suspension or collapse been circulating. We cross our fingers (unless typing) that they’ll continue — survive and thrive.

  4. Paul Lindemeyer says

    @CraigP, 6/14/09:
    “The jazz education initiative is doing a job on that — high school programs have grown (which is why IAJE existed as it did) and college programs have proliferated. Whether they are teaching the jazz that people want to listen to is one question that might be taken up; whether the economy can support these educated jazz musicians is another.”
    Well, let’s take ‘em up…education, anyway:
    I studied awhile at SUNY-Purchase, a fine program full of heavy-hitting faculty and talent. In my years as a jazz reedman I have had quite a few other contacts at the college level. Despite the quality musical experience available in a top jazz program, I too question whether there is even much thought given to matters of audience or opportunity. These are huge, amorphous questions, and there is little enough time even for musical fundamentals in such an intricate art.
    Pardon me while I get on my hobbyhorse, then, and propose a course of action that is either a radical or lame-ass or both: that colleges teach ALL of jazz. Yes, even that creaky vaudevillian hot-cha stuff that came before Bird.
    One reason: the music is richly expressive and accessible to less trained audience ears. Another: it teaches a lyricism and subtlety that later, more soloistic and scale-based jazz doesn’t easily teach; in so doing, it gives young players a canvas to find a personal sound. Still another: it badly needs critical and institutional support, beyond an occasional, highly-filtered, Jazz at Lincoln Center retrospective.
    There are artistic and even political arguments against teaching the premodern, but basically, no one will voice them. (Who would dare diss Louis or the Duke?) Until someone has the guts to, I say let’s at least look hard into the issue. Why honor the founders only in absentia, through listening and book-reading, but not study or performance? What are we assuming, privileging, valorizing, about our music?
    HM: You mean all jazz ISN’T being taught in places like Purchase? Essentially Ellington bands competing at Jazz at Lincoln Center study Ellington — is that a rarity? No one playing Basie charts, learning Fletcher Henderson or playing Hot Five tunes? That’s a shame. But how ’bout urging students to make up their own music, too? I know the New School Jazz program has an Ornette band, and teacher/players such as Reggie Workman who encourage free playing (once the students have skills to be free, and not limited from playing what they can imagine by what they can merely realize. Isn’t this the case at Cal Arts? Evergreen? Are those forward-looking music programs the exception?

  5. Paul Lindemeyer says

    @HM, 7/4/09: “HM: You mean all jazz ISN’T being taught in places like Purchase? Essentially Ellington bands competing at Jazz at Lincoln Center study Ellington — is that a rarity?”
    Evidently, and of course, only Ellington – and only high school bands. Maybe the ultimate goal is to have high schools teaching premodern jazz, then building on that foundation in colleges/conservatories. But it’s mostly not happening in the high schools – they want to prepare the kids for a. competitions, where the more alike you sound the better you score, and b. college programs, where jazz history now starts somewhere in the 50s.
    “No one playing Basie charts, learning Fletcher Henderson or playing Hot Five tunes? That’s a shame.”
    No pre-Thad Jones Basie, no Henderson, no Hot Five. If I’m wrong, somebody please correct me; I’ll be overjoyed.
    “But how ’bout urging students to make up their own music, too? I know the New School Jazz program has an Ornette band, and teacher/players such as Reggie Workman who encourage free playing (once the students have skills to be free, and not limited from playing what they can imagine by what they can merely realize.)”
    I was in the Ornette group at Purchase, directed by Pete Malinverni, who made this initially confusing and amorphous music a joyous, collaborative experience. Playing Ornette’s originals is a lot about listening and ideating off one another, a skill everyone could afford to develop. So it’s happening a few places, at least.
    “Isn’t this the case at Cal Arts? Evergreen? Are those forward-looking music programs the exception?”
    Word from such places seldom reaches the East Coast, or makes much impression if it does. I may be misjudging, but the more progressive jazz-ed projects around here tend to be about making the music (as is) more socially relevant, mostly by exposing innercity school kids to it as part of their own, personal, cultural legacy. Bless the effort – it’s a worthy one, but it does suggest an educational “holding action,” instead of a more general outreach.