Thursday, February 04, 2010

The State of Jazz

This NPR piece about a woman complaining that current jazz isn't exciting makes my head explode.

That it's on NPR seems typical--the NPR demographic is precisely the same demographic as the average jazz fan--middle-aged, white, and affluent. And this demographic usually sees good jazz as something that stopped in 1964, when A Love Supreme got a little to crazy. They like retro-jazz, but how much Wynton Marsalis can one person listen to? Well, some I guess. But how much Diana Krall?  Hopefully, none at all.

So it's hardly surprising that these people would find current jazz boring--nothing's happened in years. It's all retreading familiar ground, broken in radical ways by musicians from the 1910s through the 1960s. That stuff is great; you can hear the experimentation in the music. The retread stuff is by and large trite and old-fashioned, even if some of it is well-played.

Meanwhile, there is awesome jazz and jazz-related music all over the place if you look for it. Jazz has expanded in all sorts of new directions in recent years. Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, David S. Ware, Susie Ibarra, Ikue Mori, etc., etc., etc. There is amazing players out there. They still have the spirit of jazz--the spirit of pushing the boundaries, finding new ways to express emotion through the music, etc.

New jazz isn't boring at all. But modern musicians who really want to sound like Dave Brubeck and Art Blakey are boring. Listen to Blakey and Brubeck and so many others. And then also listen to Don Byron and Darius Jones and Roy Campbell. But don't claim jazz is boring just because you're listening to retread music.