September 2009 Archives
What I've learned since writing that WSJ piece is that, Dave Douglas's comment aside (as well as those of musicians I did not quote in print), the "jazz wars" are still to a fair extent alive and relevant to a degree I no longer thought true, though the term "jazz war" itself may be a trivialization of something far more complex: By that I mean that there is still a good deal of clear resentment toward and well-expressed opposition to Jazz at Lincoln Center's aesthetic sensibility and, more the point, its dominance of both funding and press attention in some musical circles. There is even still very much a sense among some musicians I've heard from that JALC "defines" jazz in a way that is dangerously in opposition with or dismissive of broader, more progressive representations (as one musician put it, "...an interpretive version of jazz to be held higher than originality"), and which they feel drowns out or smothers alternative viewpoints. Also, there is at some level the feeling of injustice based simply on income disparity.
I should have known all this, as it appears to be truest among the ranks of the very communities I spend much of my time listening to and writing about. And I've come very quickly to respect the fact that what I'm talking about is not the sort of critic-oriented philosophical argument that was so common in the 1990s: This is a deeply held feeling within communities of musicians who, for lack of better words, are often described as avant-garde or free-improvising but who in reality create music no less well defined or connected to jazz tradition than anything else anyone calls jazz, yet also not confined by such definitions.
Buried in what I've learned is a potentially meaningful debate or at least discussion that I for one wish to flesh out (and which I touched on directly through quotes of Scott Southard and Randall Kline): Is the net effect of Jazz at Lincoln Center's work in education, fundraising, and presentation helpful, neutral, or detrimental to the career potential and audience development of those musicians whose music is not reflected at all in JALC's programming or aesthetic?
Well, the hate mail has already begun flowing in: I expected it, having written something positive about Jazz at Lincoln Center in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. One email ranted on about how "google news and custom search aggregation" has made all print journalists like me "obsolete," But most response has been more focused, and rooted in the petty "jazz wars" of the 1990s, which, trumped up as they were even then, now seem irrelevant. (In my piece, as trumpeter Dave Douglas puts it: "Has [Jazz at Lincoln Center's strict genre boundaries and corporate image succeeded in silencing creative music and musicians? Without a doubt, no.")
Also, those who wring hands while wondering--as did the headline to my Journal colleague Terry Teachout's August 9th column-- "Can Jazz Be Saved?" make a fundamental mistake in thinking that once jazz enters the funded high-art realm of American life, it walks the plank of aging dying audiences a la classical music and opera, somehow losing its street-cred in the process.
That's not true.
Jazz at Lincoln Center neither defines nor limits jazz outside its own massive presence--and that massive presence is, on balance, a very good thing.
I missed the spectacle of Tom DeLay, former Texas Republican Congressman, now rhinestone cowboy, shaking his ass, sliding on his knees, and playing air guitar to "Wild Thing," on Dancing with the Stars, as investigators mulled money-laundering charges against him.
But I was struck by the how well DeLay--who, while representing a state that is more than one-third Hispanic, supported a 1999 bill to declare English the official language of the U.S.--highlighted the Afro Latin roots of American music. He danced to the Troggs' 1966 hit in a cha-cha competition.
How enlightened, Tom.
So pronounced is the clave of that song, that one would need to strain not to hear it. Yet the centrality of Afro Latin roots to early rock and roll is a well-kept secret in this country. The best exposition of this truth can be found in Ned Sublette's terrific first book, "Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo" (he uses "Louie, Louie" as the essential case). And I'll tip my hat to Ned, who tonight celebrates the release of his fine new third book, his second on the Crescent City, "The Year Before the Flood: A New Orleans Story." Wish I could be at the Mother-in-Law Lounge, to hear the always animated Sublette read, across the room from an inanimate likeness of Ernie K-Doe (who is among the book's characters), at what promises to be the mother-in-law of book parties.
I'm rereading Ned's book now, as I work on an essay about it for The Nation.