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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Findings of the Institute

In 2008, the Rex Stewart/Jabbo Smith Meme and Trope Institute undertook a multiple year study of the increasingly distant proxemics, gestural and spatial relationship between the jazz performing cohort (expanding) and the jazz audience (contracting). This is a précis of our findings.
The Institute initially proceeded under the supposition that the jazz performer-audience relationship could be viewed through the lens of the larger cultural zeitgeist, i.e., economic, sociological and political pressures. However, no pattern emerged that would allow a viable corollary thesis to be formulated.
The second supposition was that changing musical patterns could explain the phenomenon. However, bitonality, ‘free’ playing, the fragmentation of musical forms, etc., while somewhat disruptive, could not be definitively cited.
Eventually, Institute interdepartmental collaboration led us to undertake a media-centric analysis and it was this approach that yielded conclusive results. To wit: photographic and cinematic evidence showed that the disparity and disaffection cited above could be attributed to the rise of the bad jazz moustache and the general decline of the jazz musician tonsure.
It was noted that during the era of increased synchronization between jazz audiences and performers-c.1920-1945, few musicians of stature sported ‘beavers’ of any kind. A profusion of moustaches was noted, with good examples furnished by Mr. Berigan, Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Prez and many others. However, the nattiness and subtlety of these ‘lady ticklers’ began to see a precipitous post-WW II decline and a new crop of facial hair, more akin to ‘crumb catchers,’ supplanted what had once been modeled along crisp, carefully groomed lines.
The final phases of the schism began in the 1950's when, to use the vernacular, “all hell broke loose.” (The idiosyncratic facial hair outcroppings of Thelonius Monk preceded the 1950’s, but the Institute deemed Mr. Monk an anomalous factor, much like the ‘free radical’ of the chemist). Research showed that ‘parts’ in the hair, once firmly established through the use of Brylcreem and other hair pomades, began to wander erratically from side to side.
So too, at this point, did the goatee, Van dyck and ‘soul patch’make their appearance under the 'beatnik' rubric and spread like fungus (eukaryotic organism). Mr. Ornette Coleman, first photographed wearing a conservative sweater and non-obtrusive ‘stash,’ exploded in random hirsuteness (c.f. R.R. Kirk at right).
In some ways, the transformations of Mr. Sonny Rollins-“Mohawk” haircut, followed by shaved head-marked the definitive point at which the proxemics, gestural and spatial relationship between jazz performers and audience made a final disengagement.
The entire final report of The Rex Stewart/Jabbo Smith Meme and Trope Institute can be seen here.
Next Study:Digital Metronomes: Threat or Menace?


ken kelly ostrander said...

it's ironic that in focusing more on the music than on their hair, they may have alienated their clean cut conservative fans. at the same time, since the music was becoming more and more complex and unpredictable, it also played into that disaffection.

Steve Provizer said...

It remains an open question, of course, whether or not less attention was actually paid. Note how similar are the words "casual" and 'causality." In fact, the praxis of using hair as a means of identification with the audience may have been a deliberate calculation on the part of musicians. Ironically, while it may have forged a "tribal" bond, it seems to have achieved only temporary results. In the long run, audiences have shown that they are more comfortable in the position of being "entertained" and prefer having the "entertainers" assume performance garb that separates them from the paying customers.