THE HEALTH OF JAZZ
Sometimes we have to look beneath the veneer to see the health of something.
How do we best diagnose someone’s health? A doctor friend of mine told me that 90% of diagnosis happens while talking to a patient. The other 10% of the diagnosis will come from a physical exam and if necessary some tests.
JAZZ AND THE EFFECTS OF AGING
I thought I would get some other eyes and ears to help me to get a read on the health of jazz today. We have long promoted jazz music as one of America’s finest cultural achievements, along with the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Opera. Of course so much that is great about our country has origins in other places. To our credit we have honored our finest institutions by learning from them, constantly maintaining them and sometimes improving on them. Probably jazz is the most universally recognized icon of America’s spirit. Jazz came along when it was most needed. It lifted our spirits. For many it symbolized freedom of expression. It liberated other art forms that copied and celebrated its use of improvisation. But what has jazz done for us lately? How healthy is the jazz scene? What comes next?
QUICK LOOK AT THE PATIENT
Judy Adams knows music and this is her hopeful summation of jazz today.
“Unlike many other music genres that come and go, jazz audiences continue to grow in many ways which shows us that this 100+ year old musical art form definitely has lasting appeal.
There’s no doubt that exposure to the music, especially live performances, is the key to forming new artists and fans, young and old. who develop an appreciation and love for the music and become enriched by the sounds of Jazz.”
Judy also has talked about the fact that musical families still include jazz in their lives. This remains an essential nourishment for the health of jazz. She is also impressed with the level of support that jazz programs have in our universities.
We have been detecting a lack of music programs in the lower grades in our urban schools’ K to 12th grades. Without these programs jazz will struggle to maintain healthy growth.
EXAMINING THE PATIENT
TALKING TO THE PATIENT
Jazz is giving us mixed messages about its physical and emotional health.
Jazz writers continue to emphasize the importance of early exposure to jazz to keep the genre alive. They hope that jazz will increasingly become a fixture in American schools at all levels from elementary school through college.
I read that in many areas jazz will be introduced to and performed by even younger children. I have also read that this trend has already begun as more elementary and middle schools add jazz bands to their music curriculum. Yet, I know that this is not the case in Detroit schools and we should have concerns and take corrective action.
Jazz is presently getting an infusion of new styles of jazz that will include the music that young musicians are growing up with. This same music is not always getting heard and sometimes is being rejected by traditional jazz fans.
The line between jazz and all improvised music may soon blur to the point where there is no longer a noticeable difference. This style of jazz will be difficult to label; rather than being called jazz, it might simply be called “improvised music.” The electronic age will test our openness to new ideas.
We must continue to listen to what jazz is telling us. It continues to ask us to respect its rich traditions while welcoming new ideas.
PHYSICAL EXAM and TESTS
The only way to know if jazz is alive is to listen to its heartbeat, check vital signs and observe if its energy level is still high. These are all subjective observations and I have gotten different results from different sources.
A friend and avid fan of jazz painted a dark picture of Detroit’s jazz scene as stagnant and only by escaping to New York can jazz recover its mojo. Then I read a New Yorker’s view that only by escaping from New York can musicians be saved from conformity.
Frequent visits to jazz venues will be required to complete testing the health of jazz.
JAZZ AS A BINDING AGENT
I was reading an article in the NYT about the future of jazz and this jumped off the page at me.
Makaya McCraven plays his jazz in Chicago. He was raised thinking about music as a binding agent.
In so many ways music is a binding agent and without it in our lives a lot of things will fall apart. We must continue to nurture this glue. Music is the world’s common language. It is seldom threatening and has no known adverse side effects.
Majaya thought that he would like to do some binding in his hometown.
From the NYT article: “He thinks the young buskers playing street percussion on buckets around Chicago ought to get to know each other, possibly by improvising together. “They all have similar licks and a similar vocabulary, and I know some of them are in different neighborhoods or different crews and gangs,” he said, adding that he’d like to organize a way for them to be paid to perform together.
“I’m really interested in how the language has gotten passed around. Where do these licks come from? What’s the history? Who are the elders? Where have they learned it? How do the styles and things travel around the city, just like every aural tradition?”
We seem to know when music is needed to bring us together. This is probably the reason that jazz music will not go away soon. We have a pretty good instinct for survival.
AND, FINALLY, THE
Since jazz speaks to the human condition and to people’s hearts, it will increasingly be performed, listened to, enjoyed, analyzed, debated, and studied throughout the world.
It will continue to serve as a reminder that we can have our differences, but this great music will help to bind us together. It is a good thing to keep around.
As far as I can tell jazz is in generally good health but needs a few booster shots of youthful enthusiasm and education. All support mechanisms should be continued. We will have to be vigilant to avoid invasive strains of complacency and any unnecessary stress.
Specifically, we should be open minded to new approaches and open walleted at new venues.
Get out and support live jazz.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
May 15, 16
Michael will merge his understanding of the rhythms of West Africa from his travels with the State Department with his knowledge of jazz he has learned playing with Art Blakey, Pharaoh Sanders and Donald Byrd. A learning experience.
MAY 17, 18
With each passing year Jason Marsalis continues to grow and develop as both a composer and performer. With a fire in his heart and a passion for the music, his will to swing has never been more resolute. The maturity and the command he possesses over his music is clearly evident to those who have heard or seen him.