Jazz beyond Jazz: June 2008 Archives
"We're doing everything we can to eliminate jazz from American culture," a promoter for Live Nation Artists, the world's dominant pop music production and marketing firm "joked" to Florida councilmen considering a proposed upcoming music festival. Jazz responds with a can't-be-bothered shrug.
Too hip to be rattled by ignorant, idle, defensive -- and of course, revealing - threats, the greatest living musicians are basking in hard-earned recognition and producing inspiringly energized, not necessarily mellow music. Undeterred by Live Nation-like commercial disdain, jazz festivals are thriving throughout North America under nominally non-profit organizations run by a coterie of canny impresarios. Jazz clubs -- not only in NYC, I saw it in Chicago, too -- are hosting eager audiences, maybe because the cheap buck has lured international tourists. But the buck's not cheap Canada, which is also promoting jazz. Jazz is always endangered, but right now it's in high bloom.
"Music that we're playing now is just the blues of all of America, all over again, it's just a different kind of blues. This is the blues, the real blues, it's the new blues, and people must listen to this music because they'll be hearing it all the time. Because if it's not me it'll be someone else that's playing it. The majority of the younger musicians I've heard in New York, they've begun to play this way because this is the only way left for musicians to play. All the other ways have been explored, in the time past."
So sayeth tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler in December 1964 -- a clip I used in my latest NPR audio piece about a Swedish documentary film on Ayler currently touring U.S. arthouses. He believed unbound, exploratory and free (yet focused) improvisation was the sound of the future. Typically depicted as a wild-eyed radical whose mysterious death 38 years ago came at the crux of his brief but ecstatic career, Ayler is being proved right by the explosive energies that seek to turn America's vernacular music transcendent -- at jazz festivals this week and next in New York City and beyond. It's the only way left for musicians to play!
B.B. King played coy at the 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival last weekend. "I won't say what party I'm for," the great vocalist and guitarist began, in obvious reference to local resident Barack Obama's ascension to Democratic presidential nominee, "but everybody has something to be happy about now. Including the women -- who found out 'Yes, we can!'" Few other of the hundreds of performers were even that explicit onstage, but the fest reportedly drew 750,000 listeners over four days, and the music projected a general air of triumph against daunting odds.
The music of Chicago -- gritty urban blues -- is famously about hard times, heartache and struggle. But practitioners of the genre may boast a refreshed if wary air of accomplishment this week, upon favorite son Barack Obama's ascension to Democratic presidential candidate. At least, that's my thesis, which I'll test by listening close to some of the 90 performances at the City-sponsored, free downtown 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival June 5 - 9 -- and probably a slew of after-fest blues in neighborhood taps scattered around the toddlin' town.