SOME of America’s smartest publications — the ones that often offered robust and serious jazz coverage in decades past — have recently been running articles (satiric, critical or otherwise) dissing one of my favorite art forms. New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Review of Books… What’s behind it?
Music historian and CultureCrash ally Ted Gioia tries to puzzle it out in a new essay in the Daily Beast.
Jazz doesn’t get much coverage in the mainstream media, and hasn’t for many years. But something strange has happened during the last four months. Over a period of just a few weeks, a host of high profile periodicals have published smug, scornful dismissals of the music. Is this just coincidence, or has something changed in the cultural dialogue?
How did jazz go from America’s musical treasure to whipping boy? Let’s go back to the last day in July, when The New Yorker set the tone with the publication of an interview with Sonny Rollins. Here the sax legend offered observations “in his own words” on his life and times. But, as the jazz community soon learned, this wasn’t really an interview with Rollins, now 84 years old, and the comments attributed to him weren’t his own words, but a satire concocted by a writer who had learned his craft at The Onion.
…Just nine days later, the Washington Post ran a caustic article that began with three memorable sentences: “Jazz is boring. Jazz is overrated. Jazz is washed up.”
Ted goes on from there, sketching the way jazz increasingly gets caricatured as a pretentious, compulsory kind of culture.
I won’t spoil his conclusion. Have some thoughts on this myself and they’ll probably have to wait until after my trip.
Part of me wants to say to the haters: Go listen to a Dinah Washington or Charlie Parker song, or read about what a lot of these musicians — especially the black musicians — went through as they built and sustained their careers. And then tell me jazz is something worth mocking.