THIS year — soon drawing to a close — has gotten me thinking about the American songbook in a major way. Part of this is because of the publication of Ted Gioia’s wonderful The Jazz Standards — which has shown up on a number of year’s best lists, and through which I have whiled away many hours.
Another is the notorious Atlantic article, “The End of Jazz,” which is both a review of the book and a larger essay — intelligently argued, albeit not entirely convincing, I don’t think — about how the disconnection between jazz and the songbook has left them both dead.
The third, perhaps, is my own progress (if you heard me play, you’d know that this is probably the wrong word) as an amateur jazz guitarist, learning various numbers such as “All the Things You Are,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Chitlins Con Carne,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” “Blue Bossa,” and so on. I’ve been struck by how inventive, ingenious and musically bottomless these great songs, whether by Jerome Kern or Charles Mingus, remain. How far can you stretch ’em before they break?
And how does the shrinking of the jazz audience connect to my ideas about the crisis of the creative class?
For my latest piece for Salon, I’ve looked at some of the issues, and crossed them with a look back at jazz over the last year or so. My understanding of some of this mix of good and bad was bolstered by another very fine new book, Marc Myers’ social history Why Jazz Happened.
I spoke to Myers, Sonny Rollins, jazz scribe Gary Giddins, head of Nonesuch Records Bob Hurwitz, and others. The question of how jazz can thrive in the future is important to me and I hope I’ve taken a step into understanding it.
Happy holidays to my readers from The Misread City.