Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Gimme Some Jazz-Over Easy" by Steve Provizer

And one thing leads to the next...C.R. mentions in his ego post comment the degree of effort audiences will apply to "something non essential like aesthetic nourishment." This leads to the knock heard for so long about jazz: you have to work too hard to 'get' it.

It's sometimes framed as "accessibility,' a word that either puts up walls or acknowledges that walls exist. The passage through a maze can be accessible. High mountain gaps in Tibet can be accessible.  In any case, some effort is involved.

In one way, jazz fans have no problem with this idea. It marks them as an elite; gives them intellectual bragging rights-and maybe a shred of "cool factor." This may also resonate some with musicians. Unfortunately, musicians also have to deal with audience shrinkage and the attendant psychic and financial ramifications.

It's tough to quantify the elements of Hard/Not Accessible. Lack of recognizable melody? Complex rhythms? Polytonalism? Too much fortissimo? Certainly 30's jazz seemed-and seems-Not Hard to a lot of people, but "free jazz" does. Some strains of jazz have become background for car chases and sex scenes, thereby falling off the scale completely.  Some people have brought in hip hop, rock, disco, etc. to shift the balance.

It may be true that one person's "hard" music is another person's "easy," but sales and downloads show that most people's hard is not some else's easy. It's their hard. too. Otherwise, there'd be a more random statistical pattern.

In a way, this question has a kind of moral/puritan ethic undertone, like that in the "personal responsibility" or the "greatest generation- versus-the-boomers" debate. I.e., that audiences don't have
the "right stuff."

Have the expectations, energy and capacities (lack of attention span or other psychic shortfalls) of audiences changed over time or remained stable? Is there a smaller group of people willing to tackle challenging music? Are there simply so many more aesthetic choices that this change isn't measurable?


Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Naah we're in a time when all instrumental music has low appeal cause the people gotta have words.

The one exception might be house music in dance joints.

I have some translated articles now from the Shipp tours of September.

He was in Rio in a group with Ivo Perelman, Mr. Morris and Gerald Cleaver and they packed a large theater three nights running.

Similar stuff happened in Russia and Poland. Jim Hobbs did a festival gig with Taylor Ho Bynum in Austria, same deal.

The area press was effusive in both cases. They don't give a shit what America thinks.

Kunstler pointed it out.."a nation of overfed barbarous morons ruled by grifters."

The grifters ruling over jazz are mainly Gen X english majors who curate most notable venues where Jazz once had a place at the table.

They want Wilco cause it has lyrics...english majors. They gotta have jobs and work with what they know.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Here's an experiment. Go out and find as many ethnographic field recordings as you can from cultures that aren't influenced by Northwestern Europe's papal edict fetishes.

You find a whole planet of some one else's regular Joes and Janes who can get past the offspring of 'Happy Birthday'.

I'm not sure if any of them ascribe to the Narcissism/Neurosis model that grips the bland lands. They just make interesting wiggy instrumental music cause that's how their ears work.

Chris said...

Hehehe...some of Pharoah's most out moments on his impulse albums resemble nothing so much as Pygmy music from the Congo region. Most cultures ain't afraid of a healthy dose of least traditionally.

And at least in NYC there's a lot of audience for "new music" from the concert music venues. Columbia has it's concert series at the Miller. I went to the Xenakis concert last year and it was standing room only. I think the problem is more of a "prophet in your own country" kind of thing. New York new music audiences seem to eat up new music if it's from Europe. But free jazz is still looked on as somehow not sophisticated but "primitive". It doesn't help that the most venerated cultural institutions, Lincoln Center and Juilliard, are reinforcing the view.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

American white people have been getting increasingly uneasy over the past 10 or 20 years.

The complexion of the nation is changing fast and so a need rises to cling to great white music to prove we're capable of something.

I see it in the tea party. The "progressive left" has its maladies and the epicenter of it all is bound to be New York's intelligentsia, such as it is.

Chris said...

I think that is really true....and a lot of white people who voted for Obama hoped somehow that doing that would signal the "end of racism" when I think in reality that it just signaled a new form of racism.

For jazz of course there's the subtle and not so subtle belief that anything coking from black people can't of course they can also play a Hayden concerto....then we'll make him a house servant.

Anonymous said...

I don't see this as being a political issue at all. White people love lots of black music--just not much jazz, and I think the reason can be boiled down to a phrase from Steve's article: "a shred of cool." In the 40s-60s being into jazz was a way to feel and seem hip, so it was worth the extra investment of effort, even though it wasn't the most accessible music. But that ship has long sailed, and now people put that effort into indie rock, hiphop, laptop music, noise bands, etc., since those are what confer hipness now. The jazz musicians who are succeeding in drawing younger audiences are mostly doing it by finding ways to make those audiences feel like they're hipper people for listening, usually by trying to add non-jazz influences--with mixed artistic results, I would say. (And we've all experienced the agony of seeing jazz musicians TRYING to be cool.) There's nothing wrong with playing no-frills straightahead or 70s-style loft jazz if that's what floats your boat, but don't be surprised if you're stuck with a shrinking niche.

Steve Provizer said...

Familiarity has always bred complacency. The lure of the exotic (non-local) musician is an old trait, which, given our tribal extincts, is a little hard to figure anthropologically. I suppose it's sanctioned art that doesn't threaten. This doesn't hold true for sports, an area which still breeds suspicion, even hatred, of "the other." It's absurd, given that the business aspect has annihilated the loyalty aspect (taking less money to stay local).

Anonymous said...

Steve -- As always: Very inspiring, and encouraging to play, and compose even more 'complicated' jazz than before.

But earnestly now, it's only a matter of how a musician would communicate his program to his audience.

You may have listened to some of my freer music. Since I make announcements, and explain some of the titles, even non-jazz, respectively non-free-improvised jazz listeners don't have too much difficulties to follow our sometimes quite abstract speeches.

I would even doubt that Benny Goodman's trio, quartet, and sextet jazz was really understood by the contemporary audiences, who came to dance, and to dine, not for listening to music.

I'm sure you can hear the background noise while the Bill Evans trio was performing in the "Village Vanguard". Lennie Tristano even wrote a piece, entitled "Background Music".

Anyway, just look what happened to Maurice Ravel's Boléro (1928). -- Once a true scandal piece of music (at least for one woman in the audience), then abused for one of the dullest films ever:

Blake Edwards's (quite unerotic, and not very funny) Bo Derek vehicle 10 (1979).

Ravel himself never considered the piece as being actual music. I was wondering why it isn't mentioned in the wikipedia entry:

He wrote it mainly for his students for proving them that one short melody can be orchestrated (arranged) in a way that there would happen a natural crescendo without any modulation, variation of the theme, or a change of tempo.

Hinting to the sexual act was never intended by Ravel in the first place. (Whereas Mingus's "The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady" does that very obviously. But this is another story.)

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

I don't mean it's political. People in America are drawing their wagons into a circle.

They are re examining the familiar and their culture core and are less inclined to explore 'the other'.

The idiom has gone international and is enjoying as much support as ever abroad, not because it's exotic but because they have claimed it as something that now belongs to them too.

It was bound to happen what with all the music students coming here from everywhere. Sofia Knezevic goes home to Belgrade with her take on 'Shiny Stockings'.

Selen Gulun writes exquisite charts in Istanbul.

It moved them and they took it into their hearts.

Brew teaches it in Koln.

Here it's fear and apathy. Drawing wagons into a circle.

It's less noticeable in grand magnanimous locales like the Bay area or Seattle where a yen for the other is still in play.

Anonymous said...

Before I went to New Orleans for a short trip, I joked around, and said to some friends:

"It will be like carrying coals to Newcastle; they don't know it yet: But the US-Americans will re-import jazz by letting B.L. come across the border."

(By the way, it's "to carry owls to Athens" in Germany.)

Anonymous said...

I guess my point is jazz isn't "the Other" anymore, or isn't considered to be by younger generations. It's weird old people music, and is treated as such. Even here in the "grand magnanimous" Bay Area, you'd better have a hefty dose of eclecticism in your music if you want to get any attention from anyone under 55.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Rough Ian, you need some whistles and bells too eh. Seattle was less demanding and has a nice age cross section.

I foolishly assumed the Bay would be similar. So much for grand magnanimous.

One other thought I had viz overseas. We get excited when actual Euros show up here to perform Classical Music because that's where it's from so it carries cred.

Maybe that's the deal abroad. While they have embraced it, evidently more fully than here, they still want some Americans over.

Chris said...

I actually do think it's political and goes deeper than "lots of white people like black music." That's undeniably true as long as the music stays in pretty rigid parameters. But when the music gets serious a lot of people drop it...and the gates of classical music are particularly difficult in this sense. You should hear what people like Boulez and the like said to George Lewis about free was pretty demeaning.

The culture...when it thinks about jazz at all, still has a pretty caricatured idea of what jazz is as Steve's Bad Jazz Art Gallery illustrates.

Anonymous said...

Most folks who have their issues with (free) jazz, or with any kind of improvised music, and its performers are control freaks.

Even the grand old Monsieur Pierre Boulez would fall into that category (we Germans love to categorize, 'cause we *are* control freaks ourselves!).

Losing control is the worst case scenario for such breed of people. (I know of what I'm talking about!).

And so, we, the musicians, have to be in control, and it's our responsibility how we sell our music; and I mean "selling" not in a monetary way, it is rather how we present ourselves.

Boulez, John Cage, or even Stockhausen, they didn't like jazz, okay, but you can be sure that they knew it.

As soon as another jazz musician would talk about free jazz, or free improvised music in a pejorative way, you can be almost certain that he a) stopped listening, or b) just can't get the fact that music is progressing in new directions every day.

The evolutionary step(s) may be as small as the difference between bebop, and hardbop, or as gigantic like the difference between Mozart, and Feldman, but they are there, if the die-hard conventionalists realize it, or not.

Everything is on the move, always, otherwise it's dead, and doomed.

Okay, I can play the same record of Charlie Parker over, and over again, I may be probably able to play the very same notes, I would improvise one great bebop solo after the other; if I, as a creative musician (that's at least how I would see myself) wouldn't try to perform the necessary step, and wouldn't go beyond just plainly copying the man, my whole existence, my entire life (!) as an improvisor would be an artistic embarrassment.

I heard an Italian tenor player once. They played "Blues Walk", in the tradition of Max Roach, and Clifford Brown.

What did the young fellow do? He played Harold Land's original solo note for note, without even announcing it! -- He had stolen Harold's ideas, and didn't even *try* to at least vary them, which would make them his own ideas.

This kind of attitude makes me angry. It's like forging a painting, and claim it would be yours.

(This was slightly off topic, I know, but I can't post *everything* at my blog, can I?)

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

The hipness anxiety facet may be an american thing. What if people just go to concerts elsewhere because it's part of what they do?

How did americans end up with hipness anxieties? What if it's changes in the use of leisure time? I've seen a decline in live music attendance of all kinds since the recession. A number of rock clubs here died and more are on the ropes. The jazz fern bar down the street only gets by because of an upstairs dance/mating scene the downstairs concert room is a ghost town save for sunday brunch.

I'm going to go off and do a round of ask the Euro as I'm in regular touch with a bunch. Mario Rechtern just landed in town and I've got a profile interview in the works with Max in Lithuania.

"So hey...why do you all go to concerts anyway?" Brew... do Germans have status constructs and hipness anxieties or do they just like concerts as a custom long enjoyed?

Anonymous said...

Chris --

I think it's the same as everywhere: Going to a concert became a ritual to most folks. We have a big Philharmonic Hall in Cologne, mostly financed by partly the federal state NRW, the radio stations WDR, and DLF, and the subscribers of season tickets. They are listening to the very same kind of classics, as they did 70 years ago: Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, rarely Ravel, Debussy, and very rarely current new music, or young composers.

It's sometimes very nice to go there when they play "new" music (Ives, or Cage, or Honegger); just because some of the subscribers would sell their tickets for half the price, or less at the front door.

They are mainly not interested in the music, more in the event. I know, my verdict will be unjust to the few who are not; but if you want to listen to the new thing, disregarding of its quality, you have to go to Darmstadt, or listen to late night radio once in a week (from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.).

When it comes to jazz, or freer chamber music, are there only a few spots in Cologne. The prices range from free of charge to 30, or even 50 Euros.

At one place you have to pay the rent before you can play anote. It's annoying, but that's the only place in Cologne where you can do some more advanced stuff.

Most of the people who go there are really interested in the music, some of them are only there for showing off, and for being seen. The band gets the cover charge minus the rent, or the piano tuner.

Art galeries feature live acts very seldom, and restaurants close to zero. Although there are umpteen fantastic joints, bars, and restaurants in Cologne (one of our streets looks almost like 52nd Street / NY), there are only a few places which would dare to feature any kind of band, be it rock, pop, or jazz.

When it comes to pay the band, they say no. -- And playing for the hat is not the solution in my opinion.

We are very lucky that the owner of our house club is a crazy Greek who pays even more for the band than most joints in Berlin.

And so, most of us are teaching music, or do other things for making a living. Gigs on TV, or in the studio? Very rarely, and only for the guys who know other guys who know some other guys.

It's not longer hip being a jazz musician, and when I read Bob Blumenthal's liners to one of my Charlie Parker Verve LP twofers (one of the series with the ugly painted covers), it never was.

He wrote that Bird became more and more aware of the fact that many people attended his concerts only for watching the world's biggest junkie at the saxophone, but not for his great music.

Anonymous said...

Imagine it by night, and you'll know immediately what I mean:

Cologne's supposed to be 52nd Street: Zülpicher Straße

yankeedog67 said...

Next time "Where the Boys Are" is on tv, check out Frank Gorshin's way-out-cat on the bandstand and see that this "far-out" music is today's lite listening...or even Michael J. Fox playing "Johnny B. Goode" in "Back to the Future". The goalposts keep moving...

gerardcoxblog said...

Point blank, jazz is only challenging by contrast of the simpleminded, fast food music people are used to. I will concede there is a little bit of a learning curve in understanding how soloists are playing over the form, and other related things, but Jazz is not like listening to an extended symphony. No matter what kind of "hip" musical devices are employed, your most middle-of-the-road straightahead jazz is emotive, sensual, and has a pop sensibility at its core. All things Joe Blow should have no problem relating to.

Average folks can follow the twists and turns of mystery novels or the crime shows on TV quite well. You never hear people complaining about having to "work too much here."

I don't think cooking my own food is any big chore, but then again-- I haven't gotten used to eating fast food. That's what I really think it comes down to. It isn't that jazz is "difficult." It's that people expect music to be SOOOO easy.

Chris said...


Within limits that is true but there's always the examples that don't work. Stravinsky was ultramodern in 1914 and the Rite is now fairly popular at concerts....but people still run screaming from the concert hall when they play Schoenberg even 100 years after atonality. Ornette is gaining some fan base...even Wynton digs him now...but Cecil still sends people screaming from the Iridium.

I think there's a level of complexity which will never really gather a large audience...I'm resigned to that. My choice is either to change what I do to accommodate that or just to plow through. I'm gonna plow through and take what comes with that.