Monday, April 10, 2006

Hostility to the genre's past

Jazz is such a trendy music. No, I don't mean it like that, not trendy as in "what shoes did Paris Hilton wear" trendy, but trendy is in everyone gets on the bandwagon and thinks at the same time they're being quite the rugged individuals. I'm specifically talking about musicians, but listeners aren't exempt. Jazz is also very reactionary, even in the most "progressive" of circles. In the late 1980's and early 1990's neo-classicism reigned. "Young lions" was the phrase, dusted off from some 30 years earlier, and attached to photos of talented, stylish and usually handsome young men wearing suits, often playing standards, or originals in a hard bop vein, with "reverence" for the past. Fast forward ten years, now many musicians are out of their attempts to reinvent the music of the 60's and are now doing the same for the music of the 70's. The sunglasses are different, the instruments are plugged in, and the coat and tie is gone. I also sense a certain hostility to the past in many of today's musicians, in talking to them and hearing what they have to say.

It's as if finally, musicians got the message that jazz is lacking in "innovation" and everyone is now scrambling (and overcompensating) to make sure they don't appear to be in that "non-innovation" camp, even if what they're doing is just as derivative as anything the neo-boppers ever did. I hear people say, I don't want to play standards, those tunes aren't sophisticated enough for me, etc. Perhaps they're so tired of hearing someone preach to them how they need to "respect the tradition" that they've had it. It's the backlash & unintended consequence of the institutionalization of jazz, in large part. Remember, the neo-bop movement was reactionary as well, shunning the commercialization of fusion, etc. We're simply witnessing the other side of the same coin.

But the question we need to ask is this - Is ignoring the "tradition" worse than what the neo-boppers did in ignoring "progressive" jazz forms such as fusion and the avant garde? I'm not sure I have the answer, but right now I'm leaning towards saying yes. This whole post was insipred by a post and subsequent conversation I had with pianist and composer Armen Nalbandian, about how young jazz musicians don't appreicate guys like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

From Armen's blog:
I have never ever in my life had a musician from my generation talk to me about a Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie recording unless I brought it up first. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? That Jazz musicians don’t discuss not only great musicians but the inventors of a style. Very odd indeed.

I think that as a society, we are afraid to confront and realize genius.
I agree, Bird and Diz are not appreciated by many young musicians, as one might expect. Perhaps that's a failure of our jazz educational system, perhaps youthful ignorance, or what have you. But I think it's an issue that should be looked at through the larger prisim of the bandwagon mentality of jazz musicians. True, there are some true iconoclasts who do their own thing and don't follow trends, and they can be found in both "sides" of the jazz world, say Bill Charlap and Dave Douglas, or Joe Lovano or Keith Jarrett. But I think right now, especially amongst young players, it's NOT COOL to be into Bird or Dizzy, to really study their music (on one's own time - not in class) because that's going to label you in the current out of fashion group of the neo-boppers. It's not that I don't want to see musicians moving beyond bop, but there's both an ignorance and an arrogance that is just as troubling to me as anything controversial Wynton Marsalis ever said. Another side of this is the contrived "innovation for the sake of innovation" that is quite prevalent today. Put all of this together and it makes for quite a disfunctional jazz scene. Thus, we shouldn't be surprised if we continue to see artistic stagnation. I don't think jazz is really going to move forward until it gets out of reactionary mode, and puts the music, rather than the image or agenda first. If you care to disagree, please respond accordingly.


Blogger Mwanji Ezana said...

Interesting couple of posts. I've continued the conversation on my blog.

4:44 AM  
Blogger euskir said...

Jazz is a big neighborhood, and a "multikulti" one (Don Cherry teach us that beautiful word). And there we've got all kind of neighbors, some of them are in love with the past, others hate the past, and some are in between.
I mean "multikulti" for how many different colors and voices are on the jazz palette, no need to put a label on everyone. But not allowing people like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie be a part of the history, it's like trying to hide the sun in a basket. I'm not talking about copy a music or a style, just about to turn your head (and your ears specially) to the sounds of the people before our time.
Art forms are not having a good time, jazz it's no exception, only time will show us the end of the story, probably we're not going to be there.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Joe M said...

A very good point. What I pointed out in my "Jazz and the Cultures War" post is that I don't understand why one group feels the other is a threat. Or rather I understand why they do, I just don't think it's justified.

8:35 PM  
Blogger euskir said...

Joe...and I'm agree, there's no justification to feel a threat, one way or the other. Will be great to have a feedback line between artist from different times, not a "threat" line.

8:50 AM  

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