There are “powerful reasons . . .we ought to consider” for why musicians and listeners “tend to be a brotherhood,” according to a self-described “middle-aged white male swing-to-bopper.” He’s identifying, not justifying . . .Then the First Lady upsets the paradigm. She brings her daughters to the gig.
There are, IMO, several reasons why jazz musicians and listeners tend
to be a brotherhood and not a “peoplehood.” They’re not necessarily
“good” or defensible reasons, but they’re powerful reasons, and we
ought to consider them.
Jazz is music, of course. Music – traditionally – is a single-minded
art that dominates your life, whether you’re a player or a listener.
Indeed, that has become a kind of code for seriousness, and with it,
excellence. And pardon the rank generalization, but single-mindedness
is men’s work much more often than it is women’s.
What are the most important values of jazz? Again, I’m going to
generalize here. (I’m a middle-aged White male swing-to-bopper; it’s
what my people do.) I’d say 1. expressiveness, 2. individuality, and 3.
that combination of proficiency and assertiveness we call “prowess.”
Besides 2 and 3 being male-coded values that we mostly don’t encourage
in women artists, there is an underlying every-man (yes I said
MAN)-for-himself competitiveness that has become a given in musical
achievements as well as in just getting gigs. Cutting contests are with
us in spirit, even if they don’t happen as such anymore. Status and
ranking are real, and they’re mostly unquestioned.
Obviously not the helping, communitarian ethic that’s promoted as
“essentially feminine” (which disses the ethic and those who live it,
with predictable results). And the core fanship doesn’t help; it’s
overwhelmingly male, and consumed with hobbyist obsessions which are
just as isolating.
Speaking of status, jazz itself is precarious in status – not
commercial music, not art music. This may, at least in the music’s
money centers like NYC, be permanent, and indeed, some feel that kind
of hunger keeps the music fresh. But that too discourages a helping,
Jazz communities, societies, and venues are loose, fractious, and short
money not just because we’re all such friggn’ individuals, but because
their place in the arts culture of North America gives them no choice.
Add back the single-minded ethic of the artist and you get music that
is generations more enlightened than the community it comes from.
There are, in recent years, a lot of not-so-subtle hints from the
cultured classes that jazz has lost its cool; that it is growing
insular and irrelevant; that it no longer has much to say about – or
even to – the world it lives in. Mostly, jazz itself does not give a
damn. It ought to, and considering itself in light of cultural codes
and values besides the good old Black and White would be a good