Thursday, March 10, 2005

More on Creative Jazz

In addition to The New Republic article on Ellery Eskelin I talked about a couple of days ago, I just noticed that the January/February issue of the Atlantic Monthly had an excellent piece on the superb pianist and creative musician Matthew Shipp. This leads me to ask the question, why the surge in articles on music that a)no one has heard of and b) can be very inaccessible. I think there are a few reasons for this.

First, the creative jazz scene, or free jazz, or avant-garde jazz, or experimental jazz, or whatever you want to call it has produced a remarkable number of amazing musical thinkers and players over the past 15 years. This scene is on par with that of the Coltrane/Ayler/Sanders/Taylor period of the late 60s for creativity. And because of the wide varieties of music that these new musicians listen to, including alternative rock and electronica as well as Coltrane, Ellington, John Cage, and Olivier Messaien, the sheer variety of sounds produced is spectacular. This quality has caught the attention of the music world.

Second, jazz in its classic sense is dying if not already dead. Damn near the only people who listen to "jazz" these days are middle-aged white people who have no desire to be challenged or have their mind expanded by the music they listen to. Wynton Marsalis is perfect for these people. The manifestation of this is in CDs such as The Romantic Miles Davis. A friend of mine joked about this that in contrast to the 1 CD of the Romantic Miles Davis they should put out about 50 albums worth of the Hostile Miles Davis. The deeply boring Norah Jones is yet another example. Wow, I'm getting sleepy just writing about her. Anyway, there is nothing interesting to say about this kind of music. Young people don't give a damn about this stuff. And there's little reason to.

Finally, as musical genres blend in this post-modern world, the sounds of underground hip-hop, alternative rock, and electronic music are heavily influenced by creative jazz, just as the latter is influenced by the former. Those interested in one kind of music are going to look for the influences and that eventually leads you to Charles Gayle, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp.

Ultimately experimental jazz is not going to make a big commercial splash. Too many people today see music as wallpaper for whatever they are doing to take a listen to a 25 minute improvisational piece that will challenge them. But much as there are underground hip-hop and rock scenes, there is an important, vibrant, and wonderful underground jazz scene that is beginning to get some much-deserved attention.

If anyone out there is interested in what some of this stuff sounds like, drop me a line and I'll burn you a sampler CD of it.